WOMEN who take fish oil during pregnancy may give birth to children with improved hand-eye coordination, language skills and behaviour, an Australian study has found.Research by the University of Western Australia and the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth involved 98 pregnant women recruited from private obstetricians.
The study initially looked at the effect of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, or omega 3 PUFA – which is contained in fish oil supplements – on immune function, disease susceptibility, foetal growth and development.
To assess the effects of omega 3 PUFA, the pregnant women received either high doses of fish oil or olive oil from 20 weeks gestation until delivery.
At two and a half years of age, 72 children born from the study group – 33 in the fish oil group and 39 in the control group – were then assessed by a clinical psychologist for growth, development, receptive language and behaviour, according to Janet Dunstan of the School of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of WA.
Dr Dunstan said the children in the fish oil group attained higher scores in all measures of development, behaviour and language, and had a significantly higher score for hand-eye coordination, compared with children from the olive oil control group.
While further studies are required, the initial results indicate that fish oil supplements rich in omega 3 PUFA during pregnancy is safe and may have beneficial effects on the child.
She said supplementation of 3.7 grams of omega 3 fatty acids, equivalent to one meal of fish per day, did not result in any adverse effects on mothers or children in the research group.
“Improved hand-eye coordination can help in terms of developing fine motor skills that may enhance learning, for example being able to hold and use a pen or pencil, and increase self-esteem,” Dr Dunstan said.
Dr Dunstan said her research team were now planning a larger study with 400 children to further assess the benefits of fish oil on the development of allergic disease.
She said women who were interested in taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy should consult their doctor about dosage and whether it is appropriate for them.
”I think it's well accepted that fish is an important part of everyone's diet and we know that during pregnancy the baby needs extra amounts of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is present in omega 3 fish oil.”