News article

Association between prenatal docosahexaenoic acid supplementation and infant outcomes

Posted:  Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Prenatal docosahexaenoic acid supplementation is associated with optimal birth outcomes

Maternal psychosocial stress resulting from low-income environments and associated poor nutrition exposes the foetus to high levels of glucocorticoids released by the mother during pregnancy. This eventually affects the development of stress architecture in the foetus. Mounting evidence from preclinical studies has demonstrated that supplementation with polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can improve maternal stress reactivity during pregnancy and protect foetal neurodevelopment.

A randomised, double-blind study by Keenan et al. published in the journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology studied the effects of prenatal DHA supplementation on birth outcomes and infant development at 3 months of age. The trial comprised 64 African American women at 16–21 weeks of gestation randomised to receive 450 mg/day of DHA or soybean placebo. The supplementation was continued throughout delivery.

Infants born to mothers who received DHA supplementation showed higher birth weights (3,174 g) compared to infants born to mothers who received placebo (2,890 g). The Apgar score was 9 for 75.8% of the infants born to mothers who received DHA supplementation compared to 59.1% of the infants of mothers who received placebo. Higher levels of cortisol were observed in infants born to mothers who received placebo than infants of mothers who received DHA supplementation.

The study was limited by a small sample size. Nevertheless, the study results showed that prenatal DHA supplementation was associated with increased optimal birth outcomes and modulated cortisol response to a stressor. Furthermore, nutritional interventions such as DHA supplementation can have a positive impact on the neurodevelopment of the offspring by reducing the negative effects of prenatal stress.

News source - Keenan K, Hipwell A, McAloon R, et al. The effect of prenatal docosahexaenoic acid supplementation on infant outcomes in African American women living in low-income environments: A randomized, controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016 May 25.