No mom-to-be wants to deliver prematurely because a preemie baby, or infants born at 37 weeks or earlier, are most at risk of having a low birth weight and long-term health complications, from such as visual impairment to developmental delays. In some cases, it can lead to infant death.
Doctors have yet to pin down the cause of premature labor but they have identified the risks associated with it — stress, carrying multiples, and pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, to name a few. Still, pre-term births can happen to anyone, almost at any time during the pregnancy and fast.
But the Cochrane Review of 70 randomized trials of almost 20,000 pregnant women may hold the key to bring down the estimated 15 million premature births, which includes one million infant deaths globally. The data focused on omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements.
The researchers found high-quality evidence that, compared to pregnant women who didn't take omega-3 supplements, moms-to-be who did take it had an 11-percent reduced risk for giving birth before the 37th week and a 42-percent lower risk for giving birth before the 34th week.
Other high-quality evidence that popped up in the analysis is women who consumed more fatty fish or took omega-3 supplements are also 10-percent less likely to give birth to a baby that weighs less than 5.5 pounds or 2.5 kilograms. Moderate-quality evidence showed 25-percent lower risk for infant death.
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The results were a complete turnaround from the 2006 recommendation where it was pointed out that there is not enough evidence to support routine supplementation of omega-3 for pregnant women. Based on this latest findings, the optimum dose of an omega-3 daily supplement was between 500 to 1000 milligrams, containing at least 500 milligrams of DHA starting at 12 weeks into the pregnancy.
"There are not many options for preventing premature birth, so these new findings are very important for pregnant women, babies and the health professionals who care for them," said Philippa Middleton, an associate professor from Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).
Previous studies have linked omega-3 fatty acids to help prolong gestation by at least two days if the mom is at risk for premature delivery. Research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health had associated low levels of omega-3 fatty acids to higher chances of preterm births.
The researchers at this study looked at blood samples from 376 women who gave birth very prematurely, before they reached 24 weeks gestation and 348 women who gave birth when full-term. (The data came from the Danish National Birth Cohort, a nationwide study that follows 96,000 children in Denmark through questionnaires and registry linkages.)
As Psych Central reported for this study, "The findings reveal that women who were in the lowest quintile of EPA+DHA serum levels — with EPA+DHA levels of 1.6 percent or less of total plasma fatty acids — had a 10 times greater risk of early preterm birth when compared with women in the three highest quintiles, whose EPA+DHA levels were 1.8 percent or higher. Women in the second lowest quintile had a 2.7 times greater risk compared with those in the three highest quintiles."
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Results suggest that, among pregnant women with low levels of EPA+DHA, eating more fish or taking a fish oil supplement could have potentially lowered the risk of preterm birth.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been associated with healthier sperm, brain development in kids, and sharper mind for the elderly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) tags the Philippines as one of the top 10 countries in the world with the highest premature births. If you're pregnant, ask your doctor if it's okay for you to take omega-3 supplements the next time you go in for a prenatal checkup.
There has been a lot of good news about omega-3 fatty acids recently. It has been tied to healthy ageing, may help prevent heart attacks and strokes in hgh-risk patients, and it may even ease anxiety.
You can include the essential nutrient your diet. Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids include soybeans, tofu, Brussel sprouts, walnuts, cod liver oil, chia seeds, flaxseeds. Fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, tuna, and tilapia are also good sources of fatty acids. Some cereals, eggs, and dairy products are also now fortified with omega-3.