Researchers have found a reduction in premature birth risk with an increased intake of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids intake while pregnant. With approximately 15 million babies born too early annually, premature birth is a major global health concern. Premature birth is the number 1 cause of death for under 5 year old children worldwide, and accounts for almost 1 million deaths every year. Premature babies have an elevated risk of a variety of long-term conditions which includes learning difficulties, developmental delay and visual impairment. From 38 to 42 weeks is the duration of most pregnancies, and those babies born before 37 weeks are premature. The risk of compromised health or death is increased the earlier the birth.
Researchers analyzed data from 70 randomized trials to determine the role of long-chain omega-3 fats in the reduction of premature birth risk, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which can be found in fish oil supplements and fatty fish. It was revealed that pregnant women who increased daily long-chain omega-3s intake:
- Reduced risk of an under 37 week premature baby by 11%
- Reduced the risk of having an under 34 week early premature baby by 42%
- Reduced the risk of having an under 2500g small baby by 10%
The findings are of major importance for pregnant women and their babies as the options for premature birth prevention are limited. The causes of premature labor are not fully understood, so the prediction and prevention of early birth is challenging. It’s important to note that the optimum dose determined in this review was daily supplementation starting at 12 weeks of pregnancy of 500 to 1000 milligrams of long-chain omega-3 fats, which contained a minimum of 500mg of DHA.