Fetal Development and the Omega 3 DHA Connection

Fetal development begins before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. The brain and central nervous system begin to develop in the first weeks following conception, before the first missed period. That’s why good nutrition is so important for women that are trying to become pregnant, not just for those that have already had a positive pregnancy test.

One of the important nutrients is folate or folic acid, a B-vitamin. Deficiencies cause “neural tube defects”, in which the tube covering the spinal cord does not close. In the worst case scenario, it can cause spinal bifida and paralysis. The neural tube begins to close just five weeks after conception.

Another important nutrient that has received a great deal of attention lately is an omega-3 fatty acid called Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. Research has shown that it is essential for normal fetal development, particularly when it comes to the brain and central nervous system.

The only dietary source of DHA is fatty fish, but there are maximum consumption advisories for pregnant women and those that wish to become pregnant, because of the prevalence of the heavy metal mercury in fish and seafood. Some species should be avoided entirely, including shark, swordfish and albacore tuna. Even consumption of canned tuna should be limited to no more than four servings per week.

Fish oils supplements can be analyzed for mercury and other contaminants, whereas fish and seafood cannot. Even the listed nutritional values of foods are only estimates. It is not possible to analyze a piece of food, without making it inedible.

The better manufacturers analyze each batch of oils, before they are encapsulated to insure that they are providing the highest quality supplements possible. They post the findings of these analyses on their websites, so that women and men can be confident that they are improving their health, not risking it.

DHA is important for fetal development, because it is a building block of brain cells. Brain cells die and are replaced throughout our lives. So, obviously, we need the building blocks throughout our lives.

Some sources suggest that DHA, itself, is not necessary in the diet, because the body can use another fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA to make it. The problem is this. The body will only make a very small amount. Research has proven that increasing ALA intake does not increase circulating blood levels of DHA.

Not only is DHA necessary for normal fetal development and healthy brains throughout our lives, it reduces chronic inflammation, a cause of cellular aging and chronic disease. Fish oils have been used for painful joints for hundreds of years.

Only recently have we learned why they were effective. They reduce inflammation.

The supplements are also beneficial for heart health and good digestion. They could even be beneficial for weight management, particularly when food cravings and hunger pangs are an issue.

So, for normal fetal development and for a healthier life, fish oils rich in DHA are an excellent choice. Just be sure to choose your supplements, with care.