Sunday, December 23, 2012

Will fish oil make your baby smarter?

Will fish oil make your baby smarter?

Women who are pregnant are often advised by their doctors to take fish oil supplements, especially DHA.
DHA is short for docosahexaenoic acid. DHA is one of the two main omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. The other is abbreviated EPA.

Many people believe  that if mom takes DHA during pregnancy the baby will be smarter or otherwise better off.

Is any of this true?

Various clinical trials tested the benefit of DHA during pregnancy.
Doses of DHA used in these trials ranged from 400-1100 milligrams daily.
All these studies were randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trials. 
And all studies showed no benefit in the child's cognitive development whether the children were tested at 18 months as was done in one large Australian study or at 6 1/2  years.   

A small trial in which fish oil supplements were given only during breastfeeding  suggested worse cognitive function when children were tested at 7 years.

Visual function requires good brain and nerve function. 
One study that assessed visual function  showed no benefit. 
Another published this year showed no benefit in either visual or auditory function. 

So is there anything good about taking DHA during pregnancy?

Well there might be some benefits on immune function. Maybe.
Allergic or atopic eczema appeared to be less in a trial that used a 900 mg of fish oil supplement containing 800 mg of DHA.
Another smaller study with a lower dose of DHA  failed to show less atopic eczema.
One study showed benefit only in the infant’s first year but not in the second year. This last trial suggested less likelihood of egg allergy in the infant's first year as well as less eczema.

One small study showed better infant sleep within 48 hours of birth in those infants of mothers who received the DHA supplement. 
But how about after 48 hours? Many parents would like to know the answer to that!

The symptoms of the common cold and some other symptoms seemed less in infants in one study in those mothers who had received DHA supplements. But those infants also had more vomiting.

So where does all this leave us?
The results of DHA and fish oil supplements in general during pregnancy are singularly unimpressive. 
Pregnant women should take folic acid supplements, avoid alcohol and tobacco and prepare a safe home for their baby. Avoiding cow's milk and cow's milk formula in the first 6 months of life is also important.

And here's one last smart move:  get a knowledgeable and caring pediatrician.


  1. Not related to this article but is there a reason not to use splenda?I am a type 1 diabetic on an insulin pump. Somebody sent me this link and it was scary but I don't necessarily believe everything on the internet.

  2. Thanks Erun. This piece from green med has no scientific basis I can see to support the rant expressed.It is also full of misinformation and falsehoods and tries to scare people who do not understand basic biology or chemistry.