At this point, the scientific evidence is clear on three points.
First, the key omega-3s in seafood – called DHA and EPA – are essential to human life and health.
Omega-3 DHA and EPA are found in every cell, and DHA is critical to the growth and health of babies' brains and eyes.
Our bodies can make modest amounts of EPA from the plant-source omega-3 called ALA, but we convert less than 10 percent of that EPA into DHA.
This is why every health organization worldwide urges people to get plenty of fish (especially fatty kinds like salmon, tuna, and sardines) and/or fish oil.
Second, developing fetuses and growing babies benefit from maternal diets rich in seafood and/or omega-3 DHA supplements.
Third, the benefits of almost all seafood to growing fetuses and babies clearly outweigh any hypothetical risk from mercury.
Sadly, a new study found that Canadian women – whose diets closely resemble those of American women – aren't getting the amounts recommended for optimal child development.
Study finds that pregnant/nursing women need more omega-3s
The new findings come from researchers at Canada's University of Alberta and University of Calgary (Jia X et al. 2015).
They examined data from 600 women participating in the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition (APrON) study, which is designed to probe the effects of expectant mothers' diets on child health and development ... and on maternal mental health.
For this part of the study, the APrON team studied 600 women during and after pregnancy, to see whether they were consuming enough omega-3s to meet current recommendations.
The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada recommend that all healthy adults – including pregnant and lactating women – consume at least 500 mg of seafood source omega-3s (especially omega-3 DHA) daily.
The European Commission and the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommend that pregnant and lactating women consume a minimum of 200 mg of omega-3 DHA every day.
The team found that, despite high levels of education and income, most of the participating women were not meeting these recommendations.
Specifically, only 27 percent of pregnant women met the current European Union (EU) recommendation for DHA intake.
And, three months after giving birth, only 25 percent of women were getting the recommended DHA intake.
Seafood, fish and seaweed accounted for 79 percent of total intake, mostly from salmon.
Although the researchers did not report the source of the salmon, we presume it was predominantly farmed salmon, because it dominates salmon purchases by consumers.
Wild salmon is better, because farmed salmon are high in omega-6 fatty acids from the grains and seeds they are fed.
Few if any babies need more omega-6s than the huge, excessive amounts provided to them by the diets of most pregnant/nursing American mothers.
Unsurprisingly, women who took an omega-3 DHA supplement were 10 times more likely to meet the EU's intake guidelines (500mg per day).
The researchers noted that the EU's recommended DHA intake would be met by consuming one to two portions of omega-3-rich fish per week.
The species highest in omega-3s include wild salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, herring, and sablefish ... but most any wild seafood will suffice if it's eaten frequently enough.
And the results of the study suggested that nutritional counseling and education about benefits of supplemental omega-3 DHA should extend beyond pregnancy.
This flowed from the finding that 44 percent of the women who reported taking a DHA supplement during pregnancy were no longer taking one three months after giving birth … a key breast feeding time.
We hope that this study will prompt expecting and nursing women to boost their omega-3 intakes!
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- Hibbeln JR, Davis JM, Steer C, Emmett P, Rogers I, Williams C, Golding J. Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood (ALSPAC study): an observational cohort study. Lancet. 2007 Feb 17;369(9561):578-85.
- Jia X, Pakseresht M, Wattar N, Wildgrube J, Sontag S, Andrews M, Subhan FB, McCargar L, Field CJ; APrON study team. Women who take n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements during pregnancy and lactation meet the recommended intake. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2015 Mar 25:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]
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- Kris-Etherton PM, Innis S, Ammerican Dietetic Assocition, Dietitians of Canada. Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: dietary fatty acids. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 Sep;107(9):1599-611. Erratum in: J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 Dec;107(12):2151.
- Lucas M, Asselin G, Plourde M, Cunnane SC, Dewailly E, Dodin S. n-3 Fatty acid intake from marine food products among Quebecers: comparison to worldwide recommendations. Public Health Nutr. 2010 Jan;13(1):63-70. doi: 10.1017/S1368980009005679. Epub 2009 May 12.
- Papanikolaou Y, Brooks J, Reider C, Fulgoni VL 3rd. U.S. adults are not meeting recommended levels for fish and omega-3 fatty acid intake: results of an analysis using observational data from NHANES 2003-2008. Nutr J. 2014 Apr 2;13:31. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-31. Erratum in: Nutr J. 2014;13:64.
- Xiaoming Jia, Mohammadreza Pakseresht, Nour Wattar, Jamie Wildgrube, Stephanie Sontag, Murphy Andrews, Fatheema Begum Subhan, Linda McCargar, Catherine J. Field, the APrON study team