Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy

This week, I was contacted about some new research being presented at the The Era of Hope conference in Orlando, FL about omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy reducing the risk of breast cancer for the baby girl in the future. Era of Hope is a scientific meeting funded by the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP). I was offered the opportunity to do a short interview with the researcher, Dr. Georgel:

Q. What are some easy tips for pregnant mothers to increase their consumption of omega 3 fatty acids?

A. Select the right type of oil when you go shopping:

  • Avoid corn oil and chose canola oil instead. Price is similar and canola proper ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids (i.e., 1-2).
  • Wild caught salmon is a viable option; avoid farm-raised
  • Walnuts and broccoli are also good foods to incorporate into your diet.

Q. Are supplements (i.e. fish oil or flaxseed oil  in capsule form) as effective as other foods?

A. Yes, if you select them properly. Read the label; for fish oil, you have to make sure that the amount of omega 3 fatty acid (combined EPA plus DHA) is around 1600 mg/day. If the label says, “essential fatty acids,” it usually contains and high level of omega 6 and low omega 3 (which is not optimal) so you want to avoid those.

Q. Is the effect dose dependent? (i.e. how much do women need?

A. Yes, 1600mg of combined (EPA plus DHA) omega 3 fatty acids per day.

Q. Since it is World Breastfeeding Week this week, I’d love to tie this research in to research we already know about the role of breastfeeding in reducing a woman chance of breast cancer. Any thoughts on that?

A. Our research indicates that the maternal diet (in utero and during breast feeding) containing omega 3 fatty acids has the potential to reduce the female off-spring’s incidence of breast cancer.

I also asked about the following: finally, there is some evidence that supplementation with EFAs postpartum has an effect on reducing the incidence of postpartum mood disorders. Any thoughts on how prenatal supplementation might have a similar impact? But, since Dr. Georgel’s research does not explore mood disorders, he was unable to comment on this question. Here are two great handouts from Kathleen Kendall-Tackett about EFA supplementation postpartum:

Can fats make you happy? Omega-3s and your mental health pregnancy, postpartum and beyond

Why Breastfeeding and Omega-3s Help Prevent Depression in Pregnant and Postpartum Women

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