Do Women Get Enough Omega-3 During Pregnancy?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Food and Health, Healthy Living, Nutritiion, Supplements and Health

Should Pregnant Women Take Omega-3 Supplements?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

  • omega-3 during pregnancyLong Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Especially DHA, Are Essential For Normal Brain Development

Long chain omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, have been shown to be very important during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester when DHA accumulates in the fetal brain at a very high rate. It is during that third trimester that the fetus forms the majority of brain cells that they will have for an entire lifetime.

Inadequate intake of long chain omega-3 during pregnancy and lactation has been shown to be associated with poor neurodevelopmental outcomes. These include poor developmental milestones, problem solving, language development and increased hyperactivity in the children (Coletta et al, Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 3, 163-171, 2010).

  • The Current Recommendation is 200 mg DHA/day During Pregnancy & Lactation.

In order to support brain development in the fetus, some experts have recommend intake of 300 mg per day of DHA during pregnancy. The best dietary sources of long chain omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA are fish and fish oil supplements. However, because of concerns about seafood contamination with heavy metals and PCBs (both of which are neurotoxins), the FDA recommended in 2004 that pregnant women limit seafood consumption to two servings a week, which amounts to about 200 mg/day of DHA – and this has been subsequently adopted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the European Union as the amount of DHA recommended during pregnancy and lactation (Coletta et al, Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 3, 163-171, 2010).

Even that recommendation for DHA from seafood could be overly generous. A recent study using the EPA risk assessment protocol concluded that some farmed salmon were so contaminated with PCBs that they should be eaten no more than once a year (Hites et al, Science, 303: 226-229, 2004).

  • Most Pregnant & Lactating Women In The US Are Probably Not Getting The Recommended Amount of DHA In Their Diet

Many pregnant women avoid seafood because of concerns about mercury and PCBs. Unfortunately, the other food sources of omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet, even many omega-3 fortified foods and supplements, are primarily composed of the short chain omega-3 fatty acid linolenic acid (also called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA), and only 1-4% of linolenic acid is converted to DHA in the body (Coletta et al, Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 3, 163-171, 2010).

Consequently, experts have been concerned for some time that American and Canadian women may not be getting enough DHA during pregnancy and lactation, but it was not clear how serious an issue this was.

Do Women Get Enough Omega-3 During Pregnancy?

women take enough dha omega-3 during pregnancyA group of scientists decided to test the adequacy of DHA intake by comparing DHA intake with the recommended 200 mg/day in a group of 600 pregnant and lactating women enrolled in the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition study (Jia et al, Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, 40: 1-8, 2015). The average age of the women in this study was 31.6. They were primarily Caucasian and married. 92% of them breastfed their infants. Most of them were taking a multivitamin or prenatal supplement on a daily basis. Approximately 1/3 of them were also taking a long chain omega-3 supplement.

The majority of women had completed college and had annual household incomes in excess of $100,000/year. In short, this was a very affluent, well-educated group of women. This is the kind of group one might consider most likely to be getting enough DHA from their diet.

DHA intake was based on 24 hour food recalls and supplement intake questionnaires collected in face-to-face interviews 2-3 times during pregnancy and again 3 months after delivery. The DHA content of the diet was determined from these data using well established methods.

The results were both dramatic and concerning.

  • Only 27% of pregnant women and only 25% of postpartum women who were breastfeeding met the recommendation of 200 mg of DHA/day. In short, nearly three-quarters of the women in the study were not getting enough (DHA) omega-3 during pregnancy and lactation.
  • When the women who were taking DHA-containing supplements were excluded from the data analysis, only 13% of pregnant and lactating women were getting enough DHA from their diet. In short, nearly 90% of the women relying on diet alone were not getting enough DHA.
  • Taking a DHA-containing supplement increased the likelihood of achieving the recommended 200 mg DHA/day by 10.6 fold during pregnancy and 11.1 fold during breastfeeding.
  • Not surprisingly, seafood, fish and seaweed products were the major contributors to the total dietary DHA intake.

The authors concluded “Our results suggest that the majority of participants in the cohort were not meeting the EU recommendations for DHA during pregnancy and lactation, but taking a supplement significantly improved the likelihood that they would meet the recommendations.”

 

The Bottom Line

  • Long chain omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, are essential for normal brain development. Inadequate DHA intake during pregnancy and lactation is associated with poor developmental milestones, problem solving, language development and increased hyperactivity in the children.
  • There is no established Daily Value for omega-3 fatty acids. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the European Union recommend 200 mg DHA/day during pregnancy and lactation.
  • This recommendation is based partly on the amount of DHA needed for brain development and partly on the FDA warning that pregnant women should not consume more than 2 servings of fish/week due to heavy metal and PCB contamination.
  • This recommendation can be met by 1-2 six ounce servings/week of fish or a fish oil supplement containing 550 – 600 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Many pregnant women avoid fish because of concerns about contamination with heavy metals and PCBs, both of which are neurotoxins. Therefore, the major source of omega-3s in the American and Canadian diets are short chain omega-3 fatty acids that are only inefficiently (1-4%) converted to DHA.
  • Consequently, experts have been concerned for some time that American and Canadian women may not be getting enough DHA during pregnancy and lactation, but it was not clear how serious an issue this was.
  • A recent study done with a group of 600 women enrolled in the Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition study found that:
  • Only 27% of pregnant women and only 25% of postpartum women who were breastfeeding met the recommendation of 200 mg of DHA/day. In short, nearly three-quarters of the women in the study were not getting enough (DHA) omega-3 during pregnancy and lactation.
  • When the women who were taking DHA-containing supplements were excluded from the data analysis, only 13% of pregnant and lactating women were getting enough DHA from their diet. . In short, nearly 90% of the women relying on diet alone were not getting enough DHA.
  • Taking a DHA-containing supplement increased the likelihood of achieving the recommended 200 mg DHA/day by 10.6 fold during pregnancy and 11.1 fold during breastfeeding.
  • This was a very affluent, well-educated group of women. If any women anywhere are getting enough DHA during pregnancy and lactation, this should have been the group that was.
  • The authors concluded “Our results suggest that the majority of participants in the cohort were not meeting the EU recommendations for (DHA) omega-3 during pregnancy and lactation, but taking a supplement significantly improved the likelihood that they would meet the recommendations.”

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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