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Fish oil no good for maternal blues

Thursday October 21st, 2010

Taking fish oil supplements in pregnancy does not reduce levels of post-natal depression – or help children’s cognitive and language development, according to new findings.

Fish oil is often cited as offering benefits in brain development - but a major scientific trial has found disappointing results from using supplements.

Researcher Professor Maria Makrides said: "These results show that recommendations to increase omega 3 fatty acids in pregnancy are being made without sound evidence.

"Before omega 3 supplementation in pregnancy becomes widespread, it is important to establish not only any benefits, but also any risks to mother or child."

The study of 2,000 women in a randomised trial in Australia found no difference in levels of depression among mothers with new-borns between those who took fish oils and those who did not.

Professor Makrides, of the Women's and Children's Health Research Institute, Adelaide, Australia, and colleagues carried out randomised, controlled trials across five Australian maternity centres to assess if fish oil via dietary docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation during the last half of pregnancy reduced the risk of depressed maternal mood during the postpartum period and improved early cognitive development in offspring.

The study included more than 2,300 women between October 2005 and January 2008, all of whom were under 21 weeks’ pregnant. They received either 800mg of DHA-rich fish oil capsules daily or vegetable oil capsules without DHA.

The results are published in today’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers measured levels of depression in mothers with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, while cognitive and language development in children was assessed by the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development.

They found that the percentage of women reporting high levels of depressive symptoms during the first six months after giving birth did not differ between the DHA and control groups - 9.67 per cent compared with 11.19 per cent.

Professor Makrides added: "Further studies are required to determine whether there are specific benefits of DHA supplementation for women with a previous history of depression and for women at risk of preterm birth."

An accompanying editorial by Dr Emily Oken, of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, USA, and Dr Mandy Belfort, of Children's Hospital Boston, USA, calls for additional research regarding the potential benefits of DHA for mothers and children.

"Fish oil supplements are safe, well tolerated, and reduce risks for early preterm birth, which is associated with poor neurocognitive outcomes and maternal depression,” they write.

“Whether fish consumption during pregnancy will confer similar or perhaps even greater benefits for mothers and their children requires more investigation, including large randomised trials such as [this trial].

“For now, pregnant women should take care to get the recommended intake of 200 mg/d of DHA, either by including low-mercury, high-DHA fish in their diets or by taking a daily n-3 PUFA supplement. The benefit of higher intakes remains unclear."

JAMA. 2010;304[15]:1675-1683.

Tags: Australia | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Diet & Food | Mental Health | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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