Not So Fishy - Pregnancy and Fish Oil

Pregnancy is a tumultuous time in any woman's life. Between the raging hormones and the drastic changes going on in her body, each pregnant woman is faced with concerns and fears from all sides. There are new physical limitations, stricter dietary guidelines, and the ever lingering question of what is best for the baby.

In all of that, most women just want to stay healthy: for themselves and for their babies. This is a worthy goal, and can be accomplished far easier thanks to modern nutritional facts and supplements. While most women may be good at trying to eat healthy and may even take their prenatal vitamin on a daily basis, one easy thing all pregnant women could be doing for themselves and their babies is taking fish oil.

An Overview of Fish Oil

Like the name suggests, fish oil is found naturally in fish and other seafood. What is referred to as fish oil is actually an extract from the oily tissues of some fish. Most physicians and nutritionists recommend including fish oil as part of a healthy and balanced diet due to its unique health properties, which includes the presence of certain omega 3 fatty acids. While there are many omega 3 fatty acids found naturally in a variety of foods, fish oil in particular has the acids DHA and EPA. These two unique acids have been found to have specific health benefits, from enhanced brain development to anti-inflammatory properties.

While omega 3 is most commonly consumed through fish, evidence shows that fish do not create the omega 3 fatty acids themselves. To the contrary, fish oil is rich in fatty acids due to the diet of the fish, which is based heavily on microalgae. Therefore, not all fish are known to provide high doses of these acids, but rather fish like herring and sardines, which eat the algae as a part of their diet, are often good sources for it. Other predatory fish, such as lake trout or salmon, may also be rich in these omega 3 fatty acids thanks to the fish they themselves consume.

Though fish has been a staple of healthy diets for centuries, it is only thanks to modern science that we understand the true benefits of fish oil. Fish oil first became recognized for its health properties in relationship to the heart. Since the omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil contain anti-coagulants, they have been shown to improve blood flow, which can help patients who suffer from high blood pressure or heart disease. This link is so strong that the American Heart Association even includes fish oil as part of its guidelines to improve heart health, especially amongst those who are already at risk for or suffering from heart disease.

In addition to heart health, omega 3 has grown in popularity for its ability to improve brain function. According to a study at UCLA, the omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil can help the brain produce plaque-fighting proteins. People who suffer from diseases such as Alzheimer's have been documented to be lacking these proteins. Therefore, the UCLA study suggests that by taking fish oil, individuals can increase these proteins in their brain, thereby preventing the blockages that lead to memory loss during the onset of Alzheimer's. Other studies from around the world have examined fish oil's impact on other mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression, many of which have suggested positive results for those patients who include fish oil as part of their diet.

In general, many health professionals have accepted and endorsed fish oil as a part of a healthy lifestyle. In recent years, much work has been done to extract fish oil for research as well as consumption. This has led to the development of various fish oil supplements, which have revolutionized the way some people approach incorporating fish oil into their diets. Through the creation of these supplements, it is possible to carefully monitor the intake of fish oil, without some of the concerns related to eating fish.

Fish Oil and the Pregnant Woman

While fish oil is helpful for people of all ages and genders, there are some particular benefits for pregnant women. Since the developing baby takes so many resources from the mother's body, pregnant women are at risk for a number of disorders and nutritional losses, which can sometimes have a negative health impact in the long term. Omega 3 in particular can help guard against brain loss during pregnancy. Many pregnant women feel light-headed and forgetful while they are with child, which is due mostly to the redirection of blood flow being concentrated in the womb. This redirection of resources can leave organs like the brain vulnerable, but the omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil can help supplement the body's natural reserves to keep pregnant women strong in mind and body.

Even beyond that, omega 3 has been linked to other health benefits during pregnancy. According to some preliminary studies, women with high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids in their diets are less likely to suffer from complications such as pre-eclampsia, pre-term labor, and postpartum depression. In the long term, some studies even suggest that these women are less likely to develop breast cancer, thanks to the nutritional properties of omega 3 fatty acids.

Along with these perks, fish oil during pregnancy can simply improve mood and lessen overall fatigue. Given the physical and emotional stress during pregnancy, something that can heighten blood flow and ease tensions can be an essential factor for a healthy and happy pregnancy. While a woman's body is so focused on the developing baby, omega 3 provides an extra boost to support the mother's health and well being.

With these benefits, it is remarkable that only about two percent of pregnant women consume the recommended amounts of Omega 3 each day. Of the remaining women, most do not even come close to the daily recommendations. Though prenatal care has made huge improvements in recent years, there is still clearly much work to be done in educating women about the value of omega 3 fatty acids it provides.

Fish Oil and the Fetus

While there are clearly benefits for the mother, the strongest case for making sure a pregnant woman adopts a diet rich with fish oil is based on the fetus' health. The formation of a baby is an intricate and detailed process. All the factors must work together to make each body part and every internal working of a newborn's small body. To do this, the mother's body must provide nutrients to give the fetus the nutrients and energy it needs to grow and form. These nutrients range from calcium to vitamin A to folic acid. Each nutrient helps specific developments along.

When it comes to omega 3 fatty acids, the benefits are most notable in brain and eye development. By the time a newborn finally makes its debut in the world, almost seventy percent of the baby's brain is composed of DHA and EPA, the two omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil. This percentage can be more or less, depending on the amount of fish oil in the mother's pregnancy diet. Babies with high percentages are shown to have strong brain development, with some evidence by a study out of Harvard Medical School suggesting a higher overall intelligence by the age of six months.

A newborn's retina is also composed of these fatty acids, and the growing fetus relies heavily on the omega 3 fatty acids of fish oil to have healthy eyesight development. Solid retina formation is a key factor in good eyesight later on, so fetuses who receive higher portions of these acids are more likely to have improved eyesight after birth.

Other proposed benefits relate to the nervous system. The medical community has generally embraced omega 3 fatty acids as a critical player in the development of the nervous system, helping maintain the necessary delicate balance, which is especially important while the fetus undergoes such dramatic growth in the womb.

These strong links to the brain and nervous system may also explain why children who receive the proper amounts of omega 3 prior to being born have fewer behavior and sleep problems as they grow. On top of that, the latest research may indicate an improved hand-eye coordination and a decreased risk of verbal setbacks for toddlers whose mothers ate a diet rich with omega 3 during pregnancy.

Some preliminary data also indicates that fish oil may be associated with fewer allergies. This news could be a significant breakthrough, especially since food allergies among young children has steadily been on the rise in recent years. Yet, according to one study published in Acta Paediatrica, children who have had sufficient amounts of fish oil in their diet are less likely to have such allergies by as much as thirteen percent, possibly because of the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil, which can ease the swelling and airway constriction often associated with dangerous food allergies. These benefits were also noted to lessen the prevalence of disorders such as eczema, which the same study found to be reduced by sixteen percent among babies whose mothers had sufficient omega 3 fatty acids in their diets.

Overall, fish oil as part of a pregnancy diet aids in development across the board, reducing the risks for many ailments and developmental lapses. Babies whose mothers consumed proper dosages of fish oil have even been shown to have a higher birth weight overall, as shown by a study conducted at the University of Bristol in England.

It is plain to see that the health benefits are numerous, and, moreover, that they are still being discovered. Children need omega 3 fatty acids for strong development, and those who receive sufficient amounts during gestation are likely to excel physically and mentally, thanks to the strong nutritional factors associated with fish oil. With all of these benefits, most pregnant women are hard pressed not to consider adding more fish oil to their diet in order to give their babies the best chance they can.

Fish Oil After Birth

Though many women pay extra attention to their health during pregnancy, giving birth does not mean that neglecting fish oil is suddenly a good idea. To the contrary, fish oil can be a part of any healthy diet, due to its numerous health benefits. For women who are considering breastfeeding, maintaining a high intake of fish oil may continue to support the health of both mother and baby.

As babies begin to develop and start eating solid foods, fish oil will once again become a major dietary issue. Many baby food companies are now taking note of how important fish oil can be for a developing infant, and now have lines of food and cereal that incorporate the right amounts of fish oil to help babies continue to develop strong minds and bodies. It is a good idea for mothers to be aware of this, in order to ensure that their babies have a strong and balanced diet, rich in fish oil, which is especially important during this pivotal developmental time.

Incorporating Fish Oil into a Pregnancy Diet