Omega-3 Fatty Acids Important for Developing Fetuses and Infants

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New studies on omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) confirm the importance of these nutrients in the diets of pregnant women and infants. They also document the relationship between higher intakes of omega-3s and lower risk of depressive symptoms as well as Alzheimer's disease in adults. These findings and more are summarized in the August 2012 PUFA Newsletter and Fats of Life e-newsletters for health professionals and consumers, respectively.

In one study, there were clear benefits in the infants of mothers who took supplements of the omega-3 DHA. The infants weighed more and were less likely to be born very preterm or weighing less than 5.5 pounds. They were also less likely to develop medical complications or die. Two other studies found that several measures of infant development were positively associated with higher levels of DHA through 18 months of age.

"These findings add to the many reasons why pregnant women are strongly advised to consume at least 200 mg of DHA per day or more during pregnancy," says PUFA Newsletter and Fats of Life Editor Joyce Nettleton, DSc.

Many studies link low intakes of omega-3 fatty acids with a greater likelihood of developing depressive symptoms. New research among US adults confirmed this in a big way: intakes of the omega-3s EPA and DHA were associated with a 25 percent lower likelihood of depressive symptoms.

"Even considering the limitations of dietary studies, this was a remarkable finding," notes Nettleton. "What makes this study different from most other observational studies is that it represented all adults 20 years of age and older, regardless of their risk. Depressive illness strikes all ages, so these findings suggest that omega-3 consumption is important throughout life, not just in infancy and aging."

Markers of Alzheimer's disease may be also reduced with regular intake of EPA and DHA. A new study showed that healthy, older adults with the highest intakes of omega-3s had the lowest blood levels of a harmful substance associated with Alzheimer's disease compared with those having the lowest omega-3 consumption. Another study suggested that higher intakes of EPA and DHA were associated with higher cognitive scores and possibly greater gray brain matter volume in 75-year old adults without dementia.

To read and subscribe to the complimentary PUFA Newsletter and Fats of Life e-newsletters, go to