Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Fish, omega-3 fatty acids, and pregnancy

A large randomized controlled study has concluded that daily omega-3 fatty acid supplements do not lower the risk of postpartum depression in women or improve cognitive development in their toddlers. An editorial accompanying the study, however, points out that these supplements offer other benefits and advises that pregnant women continue to take the recommended amount.

Omega-3 fatty acids, which include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), contribute to heart and neurological health. For example, omega-3 fatty acids help prevent blood clots. In the fetus, DHA contributes to brain development. Observational studies suggested that omega-3 fatty acids might also reduce rates of postpartum depression.

Because people do not make omega-3 fatty acids on their own, they must consume them in food (such as fatty fish or nuts) or by taking supplements. Current dietary guidelines recommend that pregnant women consume an average of 200 milligrams (mg)/day of DHA, but a U.S. dietary survey found that pregnant women consumed only an average of 73 mg/day.

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