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DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and Pregnancy

DHA is considered the building block of the brain. An abbreviation for docosahexaenoic acid, DHA is one of the derivatives of omega 3 essential fatty acid (EFA). DHA has been recognized to enhance mental and visual development in babies and also plays a pivotal role in brain function. During pregnancy, from the final trimester onwards, DHA is taken up by the placenta and travels directly to the fetus's brain and retinal tissue.

Omega 3 EFA is very essential for healthy development of brain, eyes and nervous tissue in the fetus and infant. Research indicates that women should take omega 3 fatty acids for about 3 years before becoming pregnant. That will ensure that the mother has an adequate level herself to begin with.

Did you know..

  • About 60% of the gray matter in our brains is composed of fat. About a third of that fat is DHA making it the most prominent phospholipid fatty acid
  • There is about 50-60% of DHA in our retinas - the thin membrane at the back of our eyes that senses and processes light images
  • DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in breast milk
  • Fish is called a 'brain food' because DHA is naturally found in fish
  • Brain and eye tissue develop rapidly from birth to age 5 so children in this age range should receive at least 150 mg of DHA on a daily basis

DHA Food Sources

  • It can be obtained from plant food such as flax, soy-beans and vegetables in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) form, which is the primary source of omega 3 EFA. In your body ALA is converted into DHA, EPA and other derivatives which are then stored in cell membranes.
  • As mentioned DHA is also obtained directly from seafood i.e. they do not require to be converted. Herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout contain the highest amounts of omega 3 EFAs. The problem is fish can accumulate toxins and reduce its viability. Toxins in high levels are harmful to a developing fetus or infant.
  • Fish oil is regarded as the most important dietary source of omega 3 because it contains concentrated amounts of DHA.

The Importance of DHA

  • DHA is vital for your baby's visual development. It accounts for a third of the fatty acids in the retina. During the final months of pregnancy and in the first 6 months of the infant's life the retina undergoes tremendous development drawing upon stored energy and DHA for growth.
  • Research shows that infants collect DHA tremendously between the third trimester (from the placenta) and age 18 months
  • Women who use fish oil supplements can expect their children to have lesser problems with food allergies and less severe infant eczema in the first year of life
  • Formula-fed babies can get adequate amounts of DHA from supplemented formulas and breast-fed babies will get the DHA from their mothers on the condition the mother herself is getting adequate amounts of DHA. Nursing mothers need plenty of this essential fatty acid.
  • During pregnancy the fetus uses up EFA from the mother to produce prostaglandins and for the structural elements of cell membranes. The demand for DHA increases considerably which is the most important EFA in nervous system tissue.
  • On the average 1 gm of equal parts of DHA and EPA is an effective dosing during pregnancy.

DHA is a fatty acid naturally present in many foods. It is digested like any other fat. Although known to have no side effects, you should consult your doctor before taking supplemental DHA when pregnant.

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Disclaimer: Information contained on this Web site is intended solely to make available general summarized information to the public. It should not be substituted for medical advice. It is your responsibility to consult with your pediatrician and/or health care provider before acting on any advice on this web site. While OEM endeavors to provide up-to-date and accurate information, it is not liable for any advice whatsoever rendered nor is it liable for the completeness or timeliness of any information on this site.
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