Omega-3 Benefits: Omega-3, Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding
Omega-3 Benefits for Women during Pregnancy and Breast-feeding
In humans, the most critical stages in the formation of the brain structure (synaptogenesis and myelination) take place between weeks 32 and 40 of gestation and continue until 2 years after birth. In this period, mother and child are particularly vulnerable to a deficiency or excess of certain nutrients (14) such as long-chain polyunsaturated acids (LC-PUFA) and folic acid, involved in intrauterine growth, post-natal development and childhood diseases.(5,7)
Infant development of the brain and eye and Omega-3
Docosahexaenoic acid (omega-3 DHA) deficiency in the brain during development can cause a deficit in neurogenesis, the metabolism of neurotransmitters and alterations in learning and visual function in animals (4).
During pregnancy, LC-PUFAs are transferred to the foetus through the placenta, given that, although the foetus and newborn are able to synthesise them from precursors, foetal liver activity is still physiologically immature and omega-3 DHA synthesis from alpha-linolenic acid appears to be insufficient to provide the amount required by the foetus and newborn.(8)
Therefore the main source of LC-PUFA for the foetus is provided by the mother,(9) both through the placenta and during breastfeeding. Thus, if the mother consumes an adequate amount of PUFA with an adequate Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio, she can provide the foetus, through the placenta, or the newborn, through breast milk, with the LC-PUFAs (especially omega-3 DHA) needed for normal development of the nervous system.
In premature children, the maternal supply of LC-PUFAs is interrupted early, leading to short- and long-term consequences.(10)
An inadequate diet in gestating or breast-feeding mothers can lead to a lack of nutrients. Plasma omega-3 DHA levels can drop to 50% after a single pregnancy and not return to normal levels until 26 weeks after birth.(11-15) The greater the number of pregnancies, the greater the drop in maternal, plasma and breast-milk omega-3 DHA levels.(14) In experimental models, when animals were fed on a diet low in Omega-3 LC-PUFA, the omega-3 DHA content of brain phospholipids decreased by approximately 25% after a single reproductive cycle (pregnancy and breastfeeding). (16, 17) This reduction could be reversed through subsequent treatment with DHA (18), but it is not known if the restoration of brain fatty acid composition reverses the neurological changes caused by the loss of omega-3 DHA.
Protection during pregnancy
Ingestion of omega-3 DHA during pregnancy has been related to longer gestation and higher weight at birth, with a lower risk of premature birth, pre-eclampsia and post-natal depression (19).
Various clinical and epidemiological studies suggest that the changes in Omega-3 LC-PUFA levels associated with pregnancy contribute to the development of post-natal depression. A transnational study showed that high fish consumption (leading to higher concentrations of omega-3 DHA in breast milk) was correlated with a lower incidence of post-natal depression.(20) Depression during pregnancy was associated with a diet low in fish and other sources of Omega-3 LC-PUFA. (21,22) Significantly lower plasma and serum concentrations of omega-3 DHA or the DHA-DPA (Omega-6 docosapentaenoic acid) have been observed in women with symptoms of depression during the post-natal period, compared to those with higher levels (23, 24). Also, lower post-natal serum concentrations of omega-3 DHA have been observed in women who subsequently developed depression compared to those who did not.(25) Women with more than one child or periods of less than 24 months between pregnancies had a higher risk of developing post-natal depression,(26, 27) which is consistent with a potentially greater alteration in Omega-3 LC-PUFA levels after several pregnancies or insufficient recovery time between them.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) related to learning and behavioural problems and Omega-3
There is evidence that Omega-3 LC-PUFAs can help treat problems related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as lack of attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, although additional research is required to confirm these findings.(28)
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