EU committee recommends omega-3 supplements during pregnancy

Pregnant women should take a daily supplement of omega-3 acids, an EU supported consensus committee has recommended. The supplement would increase the likelihood of a healthy birth and boost child development. The committee, composed of more than 50 nutritional experts from the EU-funded projects Perinatal Lipid Nutrition Group (PeriLip) and Early Nutrition Programming (EARNEST), said it had found that women who included DHA in their diet had healthier pregnancies, that their children had healthier birth weights and that they were less likely to give birth prematurely.

According to the recommendation, also supported by seven international scientific organisations, pregnant and nursing mothers should take 200 mailgrams per day of a form of omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which can be found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. DHA intake has been linked to brain and eye development.

"Based on the systematic reviews of the available evidence, this EU-supported group of international experts unanimously concluded that women should have a regular supply of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA during pregnancy and the breastfeeding period, as it is of great importance for the child's health," told Professor Berthold Koletzko, from the Children's Hospital at the University of Munich, Germany.

The committee found however that the diets of western mothers tended to be low in foods that would provide the necessary dose. The experts believe that this could be explained by limited levels of awareness of the role of omegas in infant development.

DHA supplements have been linked with impacts on various ailments and conditions. Recent evidence has suggested that they can ease the symptoms of disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, dyslexia and Alzheimer's.

The Food Standards Agency currently advises that the consumption of two portions of fatty sea fish per week, necessary to gain the recommended levels of DHA, is generally safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women.

It also advises that DHA can also be found in other forms, including in supplements.

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