Quicklink: Dietary Supplements in Pregnancy

Fish oil tablets arranged in the shape of a fish, with a pearl as the eyeNYT: Fish Oil Use in Pregnancy Didn’t Make Babies Smart

“I think a lot of us have been skeptical that something as easy as taking a DHA supplement would improve neurologic development,” said Dr. William Barth Jr., chief of maternal-fetal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “I wish it were so simple, that there was a pill we could take to make our children smarter.”

He said more research was needed, but for now, “I think the market is running way out in front of the science.”

Research generally shows some important health benefits related to fetal uptake of maternal dietary DHA, but increased IQ no longer appears to be one of them. At least increasing one’s intake of fish oil has few if any downsides for either mother or fetus.

I was always a bit sceptical of this one, although I take fish oil supplements for other reasons (I bruise extremely easily, and fish oil does seem to make that a lot less nasty, plus it makes for less dry skin on elbows and heels). But I’ve just come back from 3 weeks in Europe where I didn’t take my supplements with me but I was eating a balanced “Mediterranean” diet, and my skin condition is the best it’s been in years.

Makes you think.

Categories: health, medicine


8 replies

  1. Yes, makes you think. I am glad the fish oil thing is getting questioned. Not taking much of that supplement during my pregnancy with Cormac is among the things I feel guilty about under ‘second child’ syndrome.

  2. Bad Science has been criticising fish oil claims for a while.

  3. Australian climate is hell on the skin.

  4. Low-fat diet, also hell for skin.

  5. Well one logical conclusion to this kind of thing is that peoples whose diet did not historically include fish are more stupid than those that did. Wheres the science for that? Im not talking about individuals per se, but peoples from geographic areas – I mean there must be lots of cultures where fish wasnt a dietary option, yeah? Are Desert Dwellers dumber than Coastals? Vegetarians thicker than carnivores?
    Evidence please.

  6. There must be other dietary sources of DHA, although I suspect most cultures until fairly recently ate seafood as if memory serves pre-neolithic settlements tend to be clustered around coastlines. I’m wondering whether insects, for example, are a good dietary source of DHA – they are eaten extensively by various non-western cultures and were definitely a part of our paleolithic diet (and I understand are very high in fat in some cases).
    So I think it’s probably not nearly as simple as eat fish = smart, no fish = less smart. It might be eat grasshoppers = even smarter.

  7. Or it may be that DHA carries no a priori benefits, but that it mitigates some sort of damage done by modern Western diets. Or that any tiny effects that might have theoretically been attributable to lack of DHA in some past inland populations were thoroughly eclipsed by the effects of, say, congenital iodine deficiency, parasite infections and iron deficiency, and so on.
    There’s nothing in the linked report that talks about recruitment, just “5 Australian maternity hospitals”. To get over 2000 women in three years, these would almost certainly have been hospitals in coastal cities; Australia has an extremely coastal population. If it was a study population already DHA replete, it would not be expected to show any results anyhow. A study in an inland food desert in a poor community may well have shown something quite different. (Possible solution: work on solving food deserts, don’t send pills?)
    I’m a *shrug*, overall – I have no particular opinion on DHA at the moment, and the infant formula companies have obviously been manipulating the science and the promotions for quite some time now, so I’m pretty deeply suspicious of the whole kit and caboodle. But this one study doesn’t necessarily debunk all claims made.

  8. Hello everyone – I hope this is a good place to say this given I am at my wits end.
    [Moderator note: Yet you posted exactly this same sob-story, word for word, on another website in March 2009, and have been doing so elsewhere since. Nothing at all has changed for you in over eighteen months? So your link to a site selling something will not be published, and neither will the rest of it, because it’s potentially triggering for women who really have gone through miscarriages. Shame on you. ~ tigtog]

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