A balanced diet is a basic part of good
health at all times in our life. However, it is more critical during
pregnancy as it has to provide the extra nutrients needed for mother and
baby. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is especially important for pregnant
and breastfeeding mothers. DHA is derived from dietary alpha-linolenic
acid and is found in foods such as fatty fish, organ meats and eggs.
Fat makes up 60% of the brain and the nerves
that run every system in the body. DHA is the major structural fatty
acid in the gray matter of the brain and the retina of the eyes. It is
especially important to the correct structural formation of
photoreceptor cells (the cells of the eye that recognize light - in all
its various hues - and transmit this information to the brain), and thus
is crucial to good vision. However, if there is not a sufficient amount
of DHA, development may be impaired. In addition, DHA can also help
prevent pre-term labor and may help protect against postpartum
Low levels of DHA in our body have been
associated with mood swings, memory loss and visual and other
neurological conditions. A small amount of DHA is synthesized in our
body naturally. But people who limit meat and egg intake, such as
vegetarians or those on low-fat diets, are liable to have low level of
DHA is naturally transferred to a foetus and
it is required throughout the pregnancy. Because developing foetuses
cannot make their own omega-3 fatty acids, their needs must be met by
their mothers. The DHA content and the essential nutrient contents in
the mother's diet reflect the amount of DHA and nutrients and that are
passed on to the baby. If the mother is not properly nourished, the
foetus will suffer.
A continual supply of DHA is needed for the
full term of the pregnancy as the DHA content of the cerebrum and
cerebellum increases threefold during the last trimester. Premature
babies, who were born without the benefit of maternal DHA during the
rapid brain growth phase of the last trimester of pregnancy, scored
average points lower on IQ tests than average full-term infants when
tested later in life.
During the last trimester of a pregnancy,
the mother transfer to her foetus much of the DHA needed for the
development of its brain and nervous system. If a mother fails to get
sufficient DHA in her diet, the foetus will use-up DHA that the mother
has stored in her own tissue - including her brain.
Therefore, such mothers are six times more
likely to suffer postpartum depression. Short-term memory loss or
permanent memory loss depends on how much DHA is lost. In addition, DHA
supplementation helps to increase the plasma and breast-milk DHA
concentrations of lactating women, resulting in higher plasma
phospholipids DHA concentrations in infants. Dietary DHA supplementation
also increases the DHA content in human milk. This ensures the infant
obtains sufficient DHA, especially during the first week of life.
The brain development of infants will triple
again and will continue growing rapidly for the first year as well.
Therefore, during this period of time, there is a great demand for DHA,
which must be satisfied through breast milk. The breast-feeding mother
should get enough DHA, otherwise the breast milk will also be low in DHA.
Moreover, it will further decrease storage of DHA.
If the baby is not breastfed at all, it
receives no subsequent DHA, thus hindering the impairing mental and
visual acuity. Therefore, mothers-to-be and breastfeeding mother must be
getting enough DHA to ensure the rapid brain growth of the baby. But DHA
supplements derived from fish oil are not recommended for pregnant women
and children five years and younger, because fish oil contains fairly
large amounts of EPA and moderate amounts of DHA.
In adults, both DHA and EPA are assimilated.
However, in infants and foetuses, EPA might compete with DHA for a place
in the nerve cell membranes, therefore, administering fish oil at a
young age may be counterproductive.
Algae supplements are the better source of
DHA for children, pregnant and breastfeeding mother. Until recently, the
primary source of DHA dietary supplements was marine fish oils, which
supplies both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA. However, the
development of a process of extract DHA straightly from ocean micro
algae, the food source of fish, has provided us with a natural source of
DHA without EPA. Thus, it has made assessment of the separate dietary
effects of single omega-3 fatty acids possible.