omega-3 fish oil capsulesResearch done by scientists from the University of Granada and King’s College London shows that maternal DHA supplementation could help to prevent or reduce the risk of the newborn suffering from anaemia

The work has proven, for the first time, that maternal supplementation with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 essential polyunsaturated fatty acid, enhances foetal iron metabolism thanks to a greater expression of key genes regulating its transfer through the placenta. This research has been done by scientists from the University of Granada (UGR) and King’s College London, in collaboration with the infant and maternity hospitals from Granada and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria along with the dairy company Lactalis Puleva.

This multidisciplinary work, published in the renowned Journal of Functional Foods magazine, has proven that, in addition to helping with early brain development, DHA supplementation is also related to iron metabolism in newborn babies. Moreover, it improves iron reserves before birth and helps to prevent future postnatal deficiencies and the damage this could cause to the baby’s cognitive development.

To conduct their study, the researchers worked with a sample of 110 healthy, pregnant women who gave birth in the maternity hospitals of Granada and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. They were the subjects of a controlled, randomized, double-blind nutritional assessment that started at the sixth month of gestation.

Two groups were established. One of the groups, made up of 54 women, consumed a balanced diet with fish, and drank two glasses of a control dairy drink per day. The other group, made up of 56 women, also consumed a balanced diet with of fish, which was supplemented with the consumption of 400 mg per day of a dairy product enhanced with fish oil (two glasses per day). The researchers took placenta samples after labour, which were processed for their gene and protein expression analysis.

Beneficial effects: The results showed a beneficial effect of maternal DHA supplements on iron homeostasis through the syncytiotrophoblast, thus enhancing mother-foetus iron transfer and improving foetal iron reserves.

“Therefore, this DHA supplement is postulated as a nutritional strategy that not only helps in the cognitive and visual development of the baby, but  could also help to prevent anaemia. In this regard, this maternal supplementation could prevent anaemia-related perinatal complications such as low birth weight and late cognitive development,” Javier Díaz Castro and Julio José Ochoa Herrera, researchers from the UGR department of Physiology and lead authors of this work, explained.