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Effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in pregnancy on maternal and fetal erythrocyte fatty acid composition

Dunstan, J.A., Mori, T.A., Barden, A., Beilin, L.J., Holt, P.G., Calder, P.C., Taylor, A.L. and Prescott, S.L. (2004) Effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in pregnancy on maternal and fetal erythrocyte fatty acid composition European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 58, (3), pp. 429-437. (doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601825).

Record type: Article


The aim of this study was to assess the effects of fish oil supplementation in pregnancy on maternal erythrocyte fatty acid composition at different stages of pregnancy and in the post-partum period, and on neonatal erythrocyte fatty acid composition.

A double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study.
Setting: Subiaco, Western Australia.

Subjects: In all, 98 women booked for delivery at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco, were recruited from private rooms of obstetricians. In total, 83 women and their healthy full-term babies completed the study.

Intervention: Women received either 4 g of fish oil (n¼52) (56% docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 28% eicosapentaenoic acid(EPA) or placebo (olive oil) (n¼46) per day from 20 weeks gestation until delivery.

Main outcome measures: Erythrocyte phospholipid fatty acids were measured in maternal peripheral blood at 20, 30 and 37 weeks of pregnancy and at 6 weeks post partum, and from cord blood collected at birth.

Results: Compared to the control group, maternal EPA and DHA were significantly higher in the fish oil group at 30 and 37 weeks gestation, and remained elevated at 6 weeks post partum (Po0.001). The proportions of n-6 polyunsaturated(arachidonic acid, 22:3n-6 and 22:4n-6) were significantly lower in the fish oil supplemented group at the same time periods(Po0.001). Similarly, the proportions of EPA and DHA were significantly higher (Po0.001), and those of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids arachidonic acid, 20:3n-6, 22:3n-6 and 22:4n-6 were significantly lower (Po0.001), in erythrocytes from neonates in the fish oil group, compared to those in the control group.

Conclusion: Fish oil supplementation from 20 weeks of pregnancy until birth is an effective means of enhancing n-3 fatty acid status of both mothers and neonates. Furthermore, the changes in maternal erythrocyte fatty acid composition are retained until at least 6 weeks post partum. It is essential to assess the effects of concomitant decreases in arachidonic acid status before any
dietary recommendations can be made.

Sponsorship: The study was supported by grants from the NH & MRC and Raine Medical Research Foundation, Australia.

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More information

Published date: 2004
Keywords: PUFA, n-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid, arachidonic acid, fish oil, pregnancy, atopy
Organisations: Dev Origins of Health & Disease


Local EPrints ID: 152445
ISSN: 0954-3007
PURE UUID: 1e23d732-cc74-4aa4-90fa-879e44c71c36

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Date deposited: 02 Jul 2010 14:29
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 12:54

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Author: J.A. Dunstan
Author: T.A. Mori
Author: A. Barden
Author: L.J. Beilin
Author: P.G. Holt
Author: P.C. Calder
Author: A.L. Taylor
Author: S.L. Prescott

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