Diet, Nutrition in Pregnancy - N3 Fatty Acids, DHA, Folic Acid (Folate)

Diet, Nutrition in Pregnancy - N3 Fatty Acids, DHA, Folic Acid (Folate)

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Diet, Nutrition in Pregnancy - N3 Fatty Acids, DHA, Folic Acid (Folate)
Findings Describe New Data in Diet & Nutrition Research

Diet & nutrition research advances have been reported from Canada, Scotland, and Germany.

Study 1: Nutritionists at the University of Guelph report that the intake of dietary (N-3) fatty acid by pregnant women in Canada is too low.

They explained, "During pregnancy, (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are incorporated into fetal brain and retinal lipids.  Docosahexaenoic acid [DHA, 22:6(n-3)], in particular, is required physiologically for optimal development and function of the central nervous system.  Maternal intake of (n-3) PUFA must be sufficient to maintain maternal tissues stores and meet fetal accruement.

"Recommendations for pregnant women include an Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) of 0.6-1.2% of energy for (n-3) PUFA intake in the current Dietary Reference Intakes, and greater than or equal to300 mg/d of DHA suggested by the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids working group."

In their study, J. Denomme and colleagues "directly quantitated the (n-3) PUFA intake, including DHA, of pregnant Canadian women (n ) in their 2nd and 3rd trimester.  Omega 3 fatty acid intakes were quantitated in triplicate by lipid extraction and GLC of 3-day duplicate food collections calibrated with an internal standard before homogenization.  Total fat intakes were also estimated using dietary analysis software from simultaneous 3-day food records to corroborate biochemical analyses."

The researchers reported, "The mean DHA intake was 8233 mg/d, with 90% of the women consuming <300 mg/d."

"Nutritional education of pregnant women to ensure adequate intakes of (n-3) PUFA for optimal health of mother and child and the inclusion of DHA in prenatal vitamins may be pertinent," they concluded.

Denomme and coauthors published their findings in the Journal of Nutrition (Directly quantitated dietary (N-3) fatty acid intakes of pregnant Canadian women are lower than current dietary recommendations. J Nutr, 2005;135(2):206-211).

Additional information can be obtained by contacting B.J. Holub, University of Guelph, Dept. of Human Biology & Nutrit Science, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.

Study 2:  According to published research from Scotland, "The fetus has an absolute requirement for the n-3/n-6 fatty acids and docosahexaenoic acid (22: 6 n-3; DHA) in particular is essential for the development of the brain and retina.  Most of the fat deposition in the fetus occurs in the last 10 weeks of pregnancy."

"The likely rate of DHA utilization during late pregnancy cannot be met from dietary sources alone in a significant proportion of mothers."

Author P. Haggarty, Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, wrote, "De novo synthesis makes up some of the shortfall but the available evidence suggests that the maternal adipose tissue makes a significant contribution to placental transport to the fetus."

"The placenta plays a crucial role in mobilizing the maternal adipose tissue and actively concentrating and channeling the important n-3/n-6 fatty acids to the fetus via multiple mechanisms including selective uptake by the syncytiotrophoblast, intracellular metabolic channeling, and selective export to the fetal circulation," Haggarty said.

"These mechanisms," Haggarty explained, "protect the fetus against low long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA) intakes in the last trimester of pregnancy and have the effect of reducing the maternal dietary requirement for preformed DHA at this time."

The researcher continued, "As a result of these adaptations, small changes in the composition of the habitual maternal diet before pregnancy are likely to be more effective in improving LCPUFA delivery to the fetus than large dietary changes in late pregnancy.  There is little evidence that DHA intake/status in the second half of pregnancy affects visual and cognitive function in the offspring, but more studies are needed, particularly in children born to vegetarian and vegan and mothers who may have very low intakes of DHA."

Haggarty's paper was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Effect of placental function on fatty acid requirements during pregnancy.  Eur J Clin Nutr, 2004;58(12):1559-1570).

In a related study, researchers in the Netherlands wrote, "Evidence that the essential fatty acid (EFA) status during pregnancy and at birth may not be optimal is mainly based on fatty acid profiles of maternal and neonatal plasma phospholipids.  However, erythrocyte phospholipids may be more reliable than plasma phospholipids to reflect the EFA status of an individual."

H. Vlaardingerbroek and colleagues at Nutri Search, Gronsveld, compared "levels of EFA and of their derivatives (LCPUFA) in erythrocyte and plasma phospholipids collected during pregnancy and at delivery of 184 women and of their infants at birth."

"In general, the relative concentrations of erythrocyte and plasma phospholipid fatty acids (percent of total fatty acids) were strongly correlated, but not at early pregnancy," their study showed.  "The overall changes in fatty acid concentrations during pregnancy were qualitatively comparable between erythrocytes and plasma, although the comparability became less towards the end of pregnancy."

"The changes in absolute amounts (mg/l) of fatty acids in erythrocyte and plasma phospholipids also compare quite well until 32 weeks of gestation, but not thereafter," reported Vlaardingerbroek's team.

They said, "Most maternal-neonatal differences in relative fatty acid concentrations are qualitatively comparable for erythrocyte and plasma phospholipids.  However, significant differences were observed for the absolute amounts of arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids. No matter these differences, plasma and erythrocyte phospholipids seem equally suitable to reliably quantify the more functional EFA and LCPUFA status based on fatty acid ratios."

"Correlations between neonatal and maternal fatty acid values at delivery/birth are highly significant in erythrocyte as well as plasma phospholipids.  Neonatal erythrocyte (but not plasma) values also correlated strongly with maternal values at early pregnancy.  Therefore, the neonatal EFA and LCPUFA status might be predicted on the basis of EFA and LCPUFA concentrations of maternal erythrocyte phospholipids at early pregnancy," the team concluded.

Vlaardingerbroek and coauthors published their study in Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids (essential fatty acids in erythrocyte phospholipids during pregnancy and at delivery in mothers and their neonates:  comparison with plasma phospholipids.  Prostagland Leuk Essent Fatty, 2004;71(6):363-374).

Additional information can be obtained by contacting G. Hornstra, Nutri Search, Brikkenoven 14, NL-6247 BG Gronsveld, Netherlands.

The publisher of the journal Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids can be contacted at:  Churchill Livingstone, Journal Production Dept of., Robert Stevenson House, 1-3 Baxters Place, Leith Walk, Edinburgh EH1 3AF, Midlothian, Scotland.

For more information on the Haggarty et al. study, contact P. Haggarty, Rowett Research Institute, Greenburn Rd., Aberdeen AB21 9SB, Scotland.

Study 3: Researchers are re-emphasizing the importance of folic acid (folate) in the diets of women prior to becoming pregnant.

According to recent study published in the German journal, Ernahrungs - Umschau, "The dietary reference intakes for folic acid recommended for prevention are not met by the usual dietary habits of the major part of the German population.  An adequate folate supply during early pregnancy has been shown to be beneficial (at present about 1.5/1000 pregnancies in Germany) by 70-75%. Terminations of pregnancies following prenatal diagnosis were reduced to about the same degree.

The researchers concluded, "Folic acid supplementation after the diagnosis of pregnancy is usually too late.  A better and desirable alternative is folate added to basic food;  folate enrichment is also expected to produce further health benefits," wrote B. Koletzko and colleagues at the University of Munich.

Koletzko and colleagues published their study in Ernahrungs - Umschau (The importance of folic acid supply to human health Part 2: Reference values for intake, dietary intake and food fortification. Ernahr-umsch, 2004;51(8):313).

For additional information, contact B. Koletzko, University Munich, Kinderspital Klinikum, Lindwurmstr 4, D-80336 Munich, Germany.

The information in this article comes under the major subject areas of Defects, Neuroscience, and Obstetrics.  This article was prepared by Biotech Week editors from staff and other reports. Copyright 2005, Biotech Week via

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