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Supplemental DHA may improve fertility
Remarkably, a recent study suggests that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids (“omega-3s”) may improve the chance of natural conception in women aged 30 to 44 years.
Omega-3s – including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are very long chain fatty acids – are essential for good health at all stages of life, from fetal development to the golden years.,,,,
The authors’ analysis of 2,510 menstrual cycles in 900 women showed that individuals taking omega-3 supplements were significantly more likely to conceive (84.9%) compared to those not taking omega-3s (51.9%). The researchers took pains to tease out the effects of other fertility-related factors such as age, body weight, and the use of prenatal vitamins, multivitamins, or vitamin D, and found that omega-3 supplementation still had a positive effect.
Individuals taking omega-3 supplements were significantly more likely to conceive (84.9%) compared to those not taking omega-3s (51.9%).
“Our data suggest omega-3 supplementation may increase the probability of a woman conceiving,” say the authors. “Omega-3 supplementation may present a feasible and inexpensive modifiable factor to improve fertility.”
Omega-3 fatty acids are also important for in vitro fertilization (IVF)
The above study relates to natural conception, but omega-3’s may also be useful for couples seeking assisted reproductive technologies as well. According to studies done at Harvard University, higher blood levels of omega-3s are associated with a greater likelihood of pregnancy in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF).,
Omega-3 supplementation supports a healthy pregnancy
Approximately 285 mg/day of DHA reduced the risk of preterm births and very low body weight babies by nearly 50%.
Prenatal supplements paired with omega-3s – in particular, DHA – may significantly reduce the risk of preterm birth (i.e., birth at less than 34 weeks’ gestation).,, Since preterm babies can have many health problems, the potential ability of DHA to reduce this risk is highly significant.
In one randomized controlled clinical trial, pregnant women were assigned to consume either three daily capsules of 200 mg DHA (for a total daily dose of 600 mg) or three daily capsules of vegetable oil without DHA (control group). Approximately 50% compliance (equivalent to about 10 capsules/week or ~285 mg/day of DHA) reduced the risk of preterm births and very low body weight babies by nearly 50%. Higher omega-3 intakes, up to 600 mg/day, reduced these risks even further.
Omega-3 fatty acids support fetal brain development
An adequate supply of DHA throughout pregnancy is crucial for fetal brain development. DHA is the preferred dietary omega-3 fatty acid for the development of the brain and retina, so a growing fetus has a high requirement for DHA.
An expecting mother’s intake of omega-3s may even impact her child’s cognition and behavior in infancy, toddlerhood, and childhood.,,,, A 2022 study showed that higher omega-3 intakes during the first trimester of pregnancy were associated with better cognitive scores in children at four and seven years of age. These and other studies highlight the importance of DHA for expectant moms.
How much DHA and EPA do we need?
Regarding pregnancy, the main conclusions of expert scientific groups are as follows:
- Women of childbearing age should aim to consume two to three four-ounce portions of seafood per week, especially salmon.,
- Shrimp should not be relied on to supply DHA, as it is relatively low in omega-3s.
- Avoid fish with high levels of mercury, such as swordfish and some types of tuna. See the FDA website for a downloadable chart showing the mercury levels in different kinds of fish.
- Omega-3 fatty acid and DHA supplements are a safe choice for pregnant women. Unlike seafood, purified supplements do not contain mercury.
- Pregnant women may have insufficient intakes of DHA unless they take supplements.,,,,
- Pregnant and lactating women should consume at least 200 mg/day of DHA.
- Intakes of up to 1 gram/day of DHA (or 2.7 grams/day of total omega-3s) are considered safe.,
- To ensure adequate absorption, it is important to take omega-3 supplements with a meal containing some fat.
Omega-3s are also important for men
A man’s intake of omega-3s has been shown to correlate with his sperm numbers and sperm motility, factors that influence fertility.12,,, In fact, a 2020 study showed that men who took fish oil supplements for at least 60 days within a 90-day period had on average 64% greater semen volumes than those who did not take omega-3s.43
Women should be sure to consume sufficient omega‐3 fatty acids, especially DHA, before and during pregnancy and lactation.
Women should be sure to consume sufficient omega‐3 fatty acids, especially DHA, before and during pregnancy and lactation. Many other nutrients are also crucial for a healthy pregnancy, including folic acid, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and iodine.,,
If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in the following posts:
- Are You Getting Enough DHA? Docosahexaenoic acid for brain and eye health.
- Nutritional Factors in Female Fertility: Part 1 and Part 2.
- The Forgotten Man: Male infertility and its causes.
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Marina MacDonald, MS, PhD
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