Fish Oil Supplementation During Pregnancy: Potential Link to Increased BMI and Metabolic Risks in Children

Fish oil supplementation during pregnancy has been a topic of interest due to its potential effects on pregnancy outcomes and child health. Research has shown mixed results regarding the impact of fish oil supplements on children’s weight gain and metabolic issues at age 10. While some studies suggest that fish oil supplementation may lead to higher BMI and waist circumference in children, other studies indicate no significant effect on parameters such as weight, height, and head circumference at birth.

One study found that fish oil supplementation during the third trimester of pregnancy increased gestational age, size for gestational age, and birth weight in infants.

However, the effects of omega-3 supplementation specifically in pregnant women with obesity have not been extensively explored.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, are essential for health and development. Adequate intake of these fats is crucial during pregnancy for various physiological functions, including blood pressure regulation, nerve transmission, and hormonal balance.

Pregnant women are often advised to consume omega-3 fatty acids through sources like cold-water fish or purified fish oil supplements to support fetal brain development and overall health.

This finding, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, contradicts previous assumptions about the beneficial effects of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) found in fish oil on children’s health.

About the study

Childhood and adolescent obesity rates have risen dramatically in recent years. The study emphasizes the potential influence of environmental factors during pregnancy on an infant’s future body composition. Fatty fish and LCPUFAs have been of particular interest due to their established health benefits.

Earlier studies, both observational and involving animals, suggested that consuming fatty fish or LCPUFAs during pregnancy might lead to lower body mass index (BMI) and better metabolic profiles in offspring. Building on this, researchers involved in this study had previously conducted a trial examining the impact of fish oil supplementation during the third trimester on a child’s growth and body composition at six years old. They observed an increase in BMI and fat, muscle, and bone mass in the supplemented group.

This recent research involved a follow-up of the same cohort, extending the analysis to assess the metabolic health of the children at ten years old.

The study included 736 pregnant women and their offspring from the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood mother-child cohort.

At week 24 of pregnancy, the women were randomly assigned to either an intervention group receiving daily 2.4-gram n-3 LCPUFA supplements or a control group receiving placebo olive oil capsules. Supplementation continued until one week after birth.

Researchers measured various parameters, including body measurements, body composition, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood glucose and C-peptide concentrations, and a metabolic syndrome score.

Analysis included data from 688 children with complete anthropometric measurements (341 in the intervention group and 347 in the control group).

Children in the intervention group had significantly higher BMIs and a greater risk of being overweight compared to the control group. However, these differences became less pronounced after accounting for factors known to influence childhood growth, such as maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, smoking during pregnancy, number of previous pregnancies, and duration of exclusive breastfeeding.

While the intervention group showed a non-significant trend towards having higher lean mass, fat mass, and fat percentage, there were no significant differences in blood glucose and lipid levels, waist circumference, or blood pressure at age ten.

Children in the intervention group had higher mean metabolic syndrome scores, suggesting a potential negative impact on overall metabolic health.
Analyses also revealed that the observed outcomes were not influenced by the children’s level of physical activity, dietary habits, or stage of puberty. Additionally, no significant sex differences were observed between boys and girls regarding the effects of LCPUFA supplementation.

What are the long-term effects of taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy?

Fish oil supplementation during pregnancy has been associated with several long-term effects on offspring. Although the findings are not entirely consistent across studies, some suggested benefits and risks include:

Growth: Fish oil supplementation during the third trimester has been linked to increased birth weight and gestational age.

Metabolism: Children whose mothers took fish oil supplements during pregnancy show a tendency towards higher BMI and waist circumference at age 10. However, these associations remain inconclusive.

Cognition: There is no strong evidence indicating that fish oil improves cognitive function in children born to mothers who took fish oil supplements.

Allergies: Fish oil supplementation appears safe for pregnant women and their children, except for individuals with seafood allergies.

It is important to note that fish oil supplements are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA, which are essential for proper fetal development. However, the optimal dosage and timing of fish oil supplementation during pregnancy continue to be debated among healthcare professionals.

Additionally, fish oil supplements should not replace a balanced diet that includes fish, as fish contains other vital nutrients besides omega-3 fatty acids.

ALSO READ: Appetizing Plant-Based Protein: Lund Researchers Crack the Code on Texture and Chewiness

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