The Grapevine

Fish Oil During Pregnancy Could Strengthen Child's Bones, Muscles

In the past, studies have shown that taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy could lead to an increase in the birth weight of infants. Now, researchers from Denmark and the United Kingdom suggest this intake could go on to have a beneficial impact on children's growth later in life. 

The study titled "Effect of fish oil supplementation in pregnancy on bone, lean, and fat mass at six years: Randomised clinical trial" was published in the British Medical Journal on Sept. 4. 

The research team conducted a trial involving more than 700 pregnant women. The women were randomly chosen to receive either fish oil or olive oil, with the latter serving as the control group. The supplements were taken on a daily basis from the 24th week of pregnancy until one week after birth.

From birth until they reached the age of six, children were assessed 11 times for measurements of their height, weight, head and waist. Scans were performed to assess body composition when the children were aged 3.5 and six years.

The results showed that fish oil supplementation through this period led to a higher body weight in the offspring from zero to six years of age. But it did not lead to an increased risk of obesity at the age of six.

The scans revealed how the higher weight was not due to more fat percentage but a proportional increase in lean mass and bone mass.

"The body composition at age six years in children given fish oil supplementation was characterised by a proportional increase in lean, bone, and fat mass, suggesting a general growth stimulating effect," the authors wrote.

Compared to the control group, children born to women who had taken fish oil supplements while pregnant had a 395g higher mass in total. This comprised of 280.7g higher lean mass, 10.3g higher bone mineral content and 116.3g higher fat mass compared to the children whose mothers consumed the control oil.

According to WebMD, omega-3s can be found in these supplements. One could get enough amount of omega-3 by eating fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, tuna, etc. While fish carry an increased risk of contaminants, fish oil is linked to common side effects like indigestion and gas. 

Reports have shown that many women do not get enough omega 3 fatty acids during pregnancy. Melanie McGrice, a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, said the findings of the study confirmed the benefits of omega 3 during pregnancy.

"Omega 3 is a critical nutrient during pregnancy," she said. "I believe that it’s better for women to consume low mercury, omega 3-rich fish during pregnancy, but if they can’t tolerate fish, fish oil supplements should definitely be considered."