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New Study on DHA and Traumatic Brain Injury Calls to Mind the Importance of Prenatal DHA

By Chris D. Meletis, N.D.

Omega-3s have been in the news lately for their ability to protect against traumatic brain injury (TBI).1 TBI is a severe condition that leads to a number of neurological and psychiatric problems that can dramatically impact a patient’s health over time. Millions of people in the United States suffer from TBI each year, leading to roughly 2.5 million emergency department visits.2

The study in the news was one conducted by Virginia Tech researchers. They investigated the effects of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) on sub-concussions in athletes.1 Sub-concussions are brain injuries that don’t have the usual signs and symptoms of an outright concussion and therefore often aren’t noticed when an athlete is on the field.

The research from the randomized, controlled trial is in its final phase with scientists analyzing the data. So far, researchers are seeing promising results, with improved neurocognitive measures in the athletes who took DHA supplements compared to those who took a placebo.

This got me thinking about how DHA and omega-3 fatty acids are so critical for a healthy brain. This is never more so than in pregnancy in order to encourage proper brain development in the unborn baby.

DHA and Pregnancy

Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to healthier pregnancies and pregnant women likely need more omega-3s than non-pregnant women, which is why taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements during pregnancy is crucial.3 DHA plays an important role in the early development of the placenta,4 which provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus while removing waste products.

Taking the omega-3 fatty acid DHA during pregnancy also leads to a longer gestation duration and a higher and healthier birth weight and length.5

In one study, pregnant women taking an average of 469 mg/day of DHA had fewer infants born pre-term and those infants who were born early had shorter hospital stays compared to the placebo group.5

Not getting enough beneficial fatty acids while in the womb can also increase a child’s risk of becoming obese later in life.6

DHA and Baby’s Brain Health

DHA is critically important for the development of the structure and function of a baby’s brain in the womb. Optimal DHA levels while in the womb are linked to learning and behavior.4 While in utero, babies must get enough DHA for their brains to develop enough neurons to work effectively.4

In research where pregnant mothers received 2.2 grams DHA/day and 1.1 grams of EPA/day from the 20th week of pregnancy through the postpartum period, their children had better vision and coordination at 2 ½ years after birth.7

In other research, giving pregnant mothers 500 mg DHA/day led to improved cognitive development in the offspring when they were 5.5 years old.8

A Nutritional Investment in Your Child’s Future

As you can see from this research, taking DHA during pregnancy and beyond can keep your child’s brain healthy long past the postpartum period. It will build them a strong foundation as they go forward in life.

About Dr. Meletis

Dr. Chris MeletisDr. Meletis is an internationally recognized naturopathic physician, an accomplished author, and respected educator in the field of natural medicine. Dr. Meletis was honored as a ‘Naturopathic Physician of the Year’ by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians for his commitment to education and helping those in need. His mission is simply, “changing the world’s health, one person at a time”.

He has authored 14 books on subjects ranging from natural medicine interactions to fertility enhancement and has published over 80 articles in publications such as Natural Health and Natural Pharmacy. Dr. Meletis has served as the Dean of Naturopathic Medicine and Chief Medical Officer for the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) for seven years and later as the school’s Senior Science Officer. He sits on several medical advisory boards and has worked with Oregon Health and Science University on a grant from the National Institute of Health to further educate MD graduates on natural medicine.

References:

  1. Esterhuizen M. Virginia Tech researchers study how common nutritional supplements may protect against traumatic brain injuries in sports. Virginia Tech. https://vtx.vt.edu/articles/2021/12/cals-nutrition-protect-cte.html. Published 2022. Accessed February 14, 2022.
  2. Royes LFF, Gomez-Pinilla F. Making sense of gut feelings in the traumatic brain injury pathogenesis. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019;102:345-361.
  3. Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Ausdal WV. Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008;1(4):162-169.
  4. Basak S, Mallick R, Duttaroy AK. Maternal Docosahexaenoic Acid Status during Pregnancy and Its Impact on Infant Neurodevelopment. Nutrients. 2020;12(12).
  5. Carlson SE, Colombo J, Gajewski BJ, et al. DHA supplementation and pregnancy outcomes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(4):808-815.
  6. Kabaran S, Besler HT. Do fatty acids affect fetal programming? J Health Popul Nutr. 2015;33:14.
  7. Dunstan JA, Simmer K, Dixon G, Prescott SL. Cognitive assessment of children at age 2(1/2) years after maternal fish oil supplementation in pregnancy: a randomised controlled trial. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2008;93(1):F45-50.
  8. Escolano-Margarit MV, Ramos R, Beyer J, et al. Prenatal DHA status and neurological outcome in children at age 5.5 years are positively associated. J Nutr. 2011;141(6):1216-1223.
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