Many women take fish oil supplements during pregnancy at their doctors’ encouragement. This substance has long been thought to boost a baby’s cognitive development, but according to a new study, the key ingredient in fish oil, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), is actually of no help in that arena.
Research previously conducted in this field suggested that consuming more fish oil during pregnancy was a helpful way to avoid postpartum depression as well as promote cognitive development in babies. However, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women who take the supplements are just as likely as those who don’t to experience postpartum depression, and their babies’ minds do not appear to have any cognitive advantages over those babies whose mothers did not take them.
Why is the Research Contradicting Itself Now?
There could be a loophole that researchers missed the first time around. “It may be that there are certain other things about eating fish, not just the fish oil, that [are] beneficial,” says Dr. Cheryl Cipriani, M.D., an infancy specialist and professor of medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, in Dallas. Cipriani, who did not participate in the new research. She explains that the discrepancy could have a lot to do with the overall diets, or even lifestyles, of women who regularly eat fish.
For the new study, Australian researchers randomly assigned about 2,400 pregnant women to take 800 milligrams of placebo capsules. Six months after the women gave birth, the rates of postpartum depression in each group was almost the same: 10% for those who took the fish-oil capsules, 11% for those who took the placebos. In addition, children of mothers from both groups scored evenly in tests that measured cognitive, motor, and communication skills when they reached 18 months of age.
One benefit of the ingesting fish oil, found in previous research and confirmed in this study, is that it decreased the chance that mothers would give birth prematurely. Scientists say this might be enough of a reason to take the supplements.
Not the Last Word
However, this study definitely is not conclusive on the effects of fish oil during pregnancy. Much about DHA is unknown. However, experts generally agree that while DHA’s benefits are uncertain, there is no known harm in taking the supplements.