Lower Fish Intake in Expectant Mothers Could Heighten Premature Birth Risk

Key Takeaways:

  • Research indicates that pregnant women with higher fish-derived fatty acid levels in their bodies have lower risks of giving birth prematurely than those with the lowest levels.
  • Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, found prominently in fish, can contribute to maintaining an optimal pregnancy due to their anti-inflammatory properties and their role as essential building blocks for certain cellular structures.
  • While the exact consumption of fish or fish oil by the women in the research remains unclear, the study identified a strong connection between lowered fatty acid levels and an increased risk of premature birth.
  • Omega-3-rich fish are among the U.S. FDA’s “Best Choice” for pregnant women, despite some concerns about elevated mercury levels in certain fish types. The FDA recommends that pregnant women have two to three servings from the “best choice” list weekly.

Emerging research indicates that pregnant women who are fond of eating fish could potentially considerably decrease their chances of giving birth too early.

The study found that among women with the lowest concentration of fish-derived fatty acids in their bodies in the first and second trimester, the chance of giving birth prematurely was 10 times higher than those with the highest levels of the same fatty acids.

The Research and Its Findings

A leading investigator on this study, Dr. Sjurdur Olsen, an epidemiologist, noted that there are now three distinct types of research demonstrating a connection between consuming long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, with more desirable childbirth outcomes.

“By consolidating the findings, the idea that an increased intake of these long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in those with a low intake will reduce the probability of preterm birth is validated,” conveyed Dr. Olsen.

The Global Preterm Birth Statistics

Approximately 15 million infants across the globe are born prematurely each year, as highlighted by the March of Dimes. In America alone, nearly a tenth of newborns are born prematurely, thereby subjecting them to an increased risk of various health complications.

Understanding the Cause

However, the exact reason behind preterm birth still remains a mystery, as stated by the authors of the study. Interestingly, extended pregnancy durations appeared common in regions with higher fish intake. This pattern sparked the original investigation into the possible link between fish consumption and reductions in premature births.

Delineating the Study

The most recent study examined Danish childbirths that happened between 1996 and 2002. Over 100,000 pregnancies information was analyzed, and for this study, they focused on first-time mothers who were carrying a single child and excluded those with prior health or pregnancy-related issues that might augment the risk of premature birth.

The study identified 376 women who gave birth before the 34th week of gestation, and as a comparison metric, included a group of 348 women who delivered at term. Blood samples during the first and second trimester from these women were collected.

Quantifying Omega-3

The samples provided measures for the concentration of long-chain fatty acids, in particular, the ones referred to as EPA and DHA, within the women’s bodies. These fatty acids are primarily found in fish and marine food sources, especially cold-water varieties like salmon, herring, and tuna, and are also found in some plant oils, nuts and seeds, and additionally, in certain fortified foods.

Women were classified into one of five groups based on their levels of these fatty acids. Remarkably, women with the lowest levels of these fatty acids were at a risk of preterm birth that was 10 times higher compared to women in the top three levels.

It is worthwhile to note that due to the study’s methodology of measuring only the blood levels of these fatty acids, the exact consumption of fish or fish oil by these women remains unclear.

Joining the Dots

As yet, it remains unknown how these fatty acids might aid in preventing preterm births. Although the study was designed to identify associations rather than causality, one plausible theory is that these fatty acids can reduce inflammation, which in turn decreases preterm birth risks, suggests Dr. Olsen.

Omega-3 and Its Role

Dr. Kelle Moley, the March of Dimes’ chief scientific officer and a senior VP, stated that these omega-3 fatty acids are crucial building blocks for particular cellular structures. She noted a significant connection between lowered levels of these fatty acids and an escalated risk of premature birth, indicating that ensuring ample fatty-acid intake before and during pregnancy could be beneficial.

Other Considerations

However, a word of caution; as some fish are known to contain elevated mercury levels, fish consumption during pregnancy becomes a concern. On the brighter side, the fish varieties that contain high levels of omega-3 are among the U.S. FDA’s “Best Choice” for pregnant women. The FDA suggests that pregnant women should intake two to three servings from the “best choice” list weekly.

The original research report was published online on August 3 in EBioMedicine.

More Information

For more insights regarding a healthy pregnancy, visit the U.S. Office on Women’s Health.

Jenna A. Fletcher

Greetings from the heart of holistic health! I’m Jenna, originally hailing from the scenic landscapes of Canada and now sharing my unique blend of expertise with the global community. My foundation in psychotherapy has given me profound insights into the intricacies of the mind-body connection.I passionately believe in the power of a holistic lifestyle, especially when paired with the transformative benefits of plant-based living. Nourishing ourselves goes beyond just the physical; it’s an intricate dance of mental, emotional, and environmental well-being. My writings here aim to provide a comprehensive look at how a plant-centric lifestyle can uplift and revitalize every facet of our existence.With each article, I hope to guide, inspire, and enlighten readers on the holistic benefits of plant-based living, drawing connections between our diet, our minds, and the world around us. Join me as we delve into this green journey, weaving ancient wisdom with modern insights for a balanced, vibrant life.
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