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Study: Fish Oil Doesn't Affect Postpartum Depression

Nor Does Fish Oil Boost Children's Learning
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 19, 2010 -- Taking fish oil (DHA)  supplements during pregnancy, widely thought to help mothers' moods and children's cognitive skills, does not appear to reduce the risk of postpartum depression of mothers or boost the language development and cognitive skills of their children, according to a new Australian study.

''Our data suggest that there is no need for apparently healthy pregnant women to take DHA supplements," says researcher Maria Makrides, PhD, deputy director of the Women's and Children's Health Research Institute and professor of human nutrition at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

She also found no differences in cognitive and language skills of the infants at 18 months, whether their mothers took DHA supplements or did not.

However, a spokesperson for the supplement industry sees weaknesses in the study.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

DHA, Moms, and Infants

In the past few years, studies in Europe and the U.S. have found that higher intakes of fatty acids known as n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LSPUFA) from fish and seafood during pregnancy are linked with a reduced risk of symptoms of depression in mothers after they give birth and an improvement in children's language and cognitive skills.

It's believed that the DHA or docosahexaenoic acid in fish oil may be the reason for the benefit.

Expert guidelines recommend that women eat an average of 200 milligrams of DHA a day during pregnancy, although most women in the U.S. and other countries eat very little fish and don't get enough DHA.

Studies of DHA's effect in human pregnancies have yielded mixed results, Makrides says.

DHA and Depression: A Closer Look

Makrides and her colleagues evaluated 2,320 women randomly assigned from the 21st week of pregnancy on to take either three 500-milligram fish oil capsules (containing DHA) daily or three 500-milligram capsules of vegetable oil daily.

The mothers took a standard test about depression symptoms at six weeks and six months after delivery.

The researches evaluated 694 children at age 18 months, testing such developmental skills as sensorimotor development, memory, simple problem solving, and language.

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