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No health benefits of fish oil for moms-to-be and babies

Contrary to that long-standing belief, the novel Australian study suggests that taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy does not appear to reduce the risk of postpartum depression of mothers or boost the language development and cognitive skills of their babies.

Pregnant women is often encouraged to take fish oil supplements in order to boost baby’s cognitive development. But a new study has found evidence that taking fish oil capsules during pregnancy neither helps reduce woman’s risk of post-natal depression, nor does it assist baby's cognitive development.

It has long been believed that fish oil is beneficial especially of babies.

For instance, it may reduce triglycerides, heart rate, blood pressure, and atherosclerosis, and supports the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves of the babies (particularly in the womb and during nursing).

No benefits to mothers
Taking docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA- a key fish oil ingredient, during pregnancy is widely thought to help mothers' moods and children's cognitive skills.

Contrary to that long-standing belief, the novel Australian study suggests that taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy does not appear to reduce the risk of postpartum depression of mothers or boost the language development and cognitive skills of their babies, according to WebMD Health News.

''Our data suggest that there is no need for apparently healthy pregnant women to take DHA supplements," says researcher Maria Makrides, PhD, deputy director of the Women's and Children's Health Research Institute and professor of human nutrition at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

"These results show that recommendations to increase omega 3 fatty acids in pregnancy are being made without sound evidence," Makrides said.

No clear cognitive benefit to babies
Makrides stated that their findings also contradict existing international recommendations that taking DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil, in pregnancy help newborn babies' language and cognitive development.

"These results show that recommendations to increase omega 3 fatty acids in pregnancy are being made without sound evidence," Makrides said.

Study details
To reach their findings, Makrides and fellow researchers studied 2,400 pregnant women in five Australian maternity hospitals between 2005 and 2009.

Half the women in the later stages of pregnancy were given fish-oil supplements containing the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is believed to play an important role in brain function, and the other half received placebo capsules containing vegetable oil.

Study highlights
After a five-year follow-up, the research team found no significant difference in either the incidence of post-natal depression in the women or neuro developmental outcomes of their children.

To be exact, 9.6 percent of DHA group women had high levels of depressive symptoms six months after giving the birth compared to 11 percent of mothers in the placebo group.

"Before DHA supplementation in pregnancy becomes widespread, it is important to know not only if there are benefits, but also of any risks for either the mother or child," Makrides said.

Further, when toddlers were evaluated at 18 months for cognitive and language development the psychologists found no marked differences in babbling, verbal comprehension and other language development between the two groups. The even did not show marked differences in cognitive measures such as exploring objects and forming concepts.

"These results show that recommendations to increase omega 3 fatty acids in pregnancy are being made without sound evidence," Makrides added.

As of their findings, she said, ''This is the largest and most well conducted study of its type so we have a conclusive result about the fact that there is little or no effect of DHA supplementation during normal pregnancy on postpartum depression or early childhood neuro-development."

The study is published Tuesday in 'The Journal of the American Medical Association.'