A couple of years ago, Shelly and I became ensnared in a friendly conversation with a pediatrician who maintained there was no evidence of benefit in using DHA containing fish oils during pregnancy for newborn infants. Before you could say “slap my forehead and call me Sally”, I was off to the online National Library of Medicine Database where I found over a dozen studies supporting the use of DHA supplements in pregnant women (and children) for a variety of health outcomes. Ironically, the vast majority of them were published in the Journal of Pediatrics. 

Yet another remarkable study which recently crossed my desk was one involving the use of DHA supplementation to improve the outcomes of allergies in preterm infants. This study, also published in the Journal of Pediatrics, examined the use of DHA on long-term atopic (skin related) and respiratory disorders in 657 infants born more than 4 weeks premature. Moms were supplementing with either low potency or “high potency” DHA supplements (and incredibly dilute ones if I may say so), and infants were nursed in order to assimilate DHA into their bodies. Data was then gathered for 18 months. Let’s see what amazingly predictable results we shall get this time!

"Allergy" by Nikki Tysoe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Infants in the high DHA group had significantly reduced respiratory distress (bronchopulmonary dyplasia or BPD), and a reduction in reported hay fever was found in ALL infants in the high DHA group. While the results of this study are pretty darn consistent and not wholly surprising, I can’t help but wonder what the results would be like if the mothers were supplementing with a non-Tuna fish oil that has been surpassed in potency by nearly every fish oil made in the last 10 years. Tuna oil? That literally is the worst fish oil you can buy in my opinion (and my opinion so happens to be based on fact).

We typically recommend mothers supplement with between 250mg – 500mg of DHA per day on average from clean fish sources such as anchovies, mackerel and sardines (and a few vegan algae based versions), although higher amounts of fish oil are occasionally used for a variety of other health goals. When it comes to pregnancy, there are a few “musts” that will improve the health outcomes of newborn babies, and DHA has to be near the top of the heap.

Pediatrics. 2011 Jul;128(1):e71-7. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-2405. Epub 2011 Jun 27.