Taking fish oil during pregnancy boosts children’s growth in their first six years of life, a recent study has shown.
Fish oil contains long-chain fatty acids that have been linked to a number of heath benefits, with previous studies showing these nutritious fats are crucial to an infant’s brain development.
According to a new report, women who take fish oil supplements during pregnancy, have children with higher birth weights more quickly for the first six years of their lives.
Although, the long-term effects for these infants are not well understood, researchers at Copenhagen University found that when their mothers took the pills during the later stages of pregnancy, their children had higher body mass indexes (BMI), but for those first years, they gained no more body fat than other children.
Studies in animals showed that supplementing the diet with fish oil during pregnancy affects the development of fat cells, while trials in humans have shown pregnant women with a higher intake of fish oil give birth to higher birth weight babies; the impact on children later in life has been unclear until now.
Study co-author, Dr Hans Bisgaard of Copenhagen University said diet during pregnancy and infancy is an important determinant for children’s development and health, adding that intake of fish containing n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), in particular, is important for adequate development.’
According to him, these chains of fatty acids are crucial to the way a baby’s brain develops, both in the womb and during the first few months of life during breastfeeding.The researchers, based in Britain and Denmark set out to examine the effect of taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy on the growth and body composition of children later in life.
The trial involved 736 pregnant women who received either fish oil or olive oil daily from week 24 of pregnancy week until one week after birth.
Height, weight, head and waist measurements were assessed 11 times from birth to age six and adjusted for age and sex.
The findings, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), revealed a sustained higher BMI from 12 months old to six years of age.Body composition was assessed using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans at 3.5 and six years of age.
The scans showed that the higher BMI was not the result of a higher fat percentage, but reflected a proportional increase in lean mass, bone mass, and fat mass, suggesting that the fish oil supplementation had a general growth stimulating effect.
Meanwhile, at six years of age, DXA scans showed children whose mothers had taken fish oil supplements while pregnant had a 395g higher total mass, 280.7g higher lean mass, 10.3g higher bone mineral content and 116.3g higher fat mass compared with children of mothers who took the control oil.
Bisgaard said: ‘The body composition at age six in children given fish oil supplementation was characterised by a proportional increase in lean, bone, and fat mass suggesting a general growth stimulating effect.He concluded: ‘Fish oil supplementation from the 24th week of pregnancy led to higher BMI in the offspring from 0 to six years of age but not an increased risk of obesity at age six.