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Back Pain and Pregnancy: January 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Although not strictly back pain related.....Importance of Fish Oil in Pregnancy

Although fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids aren't strictly a back pain issue in pregnancy, I've decided to write a little bit about them because of the myriad questions I get about them and of their importance for the expectant mother.

Now for a little biology lesson:
We all know that an infant gets all of its nutrition from the mother during pregnancy. What a mother eats greatly is passed directly to the baby through the umbilical cord. We all know that it is important to get folic acid for spinal cord development, iron for blood supply, and calcium to help build those little bones. However, you may not know that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain development! Pretty important, huh?

If you want all the gory details, read on:
There are 2 important types of omega-3 fatty acids for brain development and enhancement: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).  These fats are long chain fatty acids that we must get from food. (Our bodies aren't able to make them.) When omega-3s are present, the brain is able to function better because it helps build the fatty sheath that surrounds a nerve (called myelin). Myelin speeds up nerve transmission and enables our brain to send more accurate and faster messages to the rest of the body.

*Omega-3 fatty acids make up 70% of a baby's brain and the only way for a baby to obtain these necessary nutrients is from its mother.  How the baby's nervous system develops will depend greatly on how much Omega-3s the mother has during her pregnancy.
Now for all the questions I routinely get about fish oil....

Why can't I just eat more fish?
Well, you certainly can. We would all do well to replace meat products in our diet with fish. However, when you are pregnant you want to limit the amount of fish you eat. High levels of mercury in fish such as swordfish, mackerel, and some tunas could cause problems to your unborn baby (called heavy metal toxicity). Those fish should be avoided.  According to the FDA only low-mercury fish should be eaten while pregnant and then not more than 2 times per week. However, even eating fish twice a week will not give you a sufficient amount of Omega-3s (it's not even enough for someone who is not pregnant!). So even if you eat fish, you should still supplement with a good omega-3 supplement.
Check out 6 easy tips to getting the most out of your fish oils.

How does my baby benefit from omega-3 fatty acids?
This is one of my favorites because it really amazes people. (It still amazes me!)
  • Stronger immune system
  • Better hand-eye coordination
  • Higher IQ
  • Fewer behavioral problems
  • Reduced risks of asthma
Additionally there are great benefits for the mother as well....
  • Less risk of postpartum depression  
  • Reduced risk of breast cancer 
  • Decreased chance of pre-term labor
  • Improved cardiovascular health
    On the other hand, a deficiency in the omega-3 fats can adversely affect learning, behavior, and vision in infants

    I thought omega-3s were only important during breastfeeding?
    They are very important during breastfeeding, but they come into play long before the baby is born.
    Throughout pregnancy, maternal fatty acid blood levels drop. This results from the growing infant’s need for the fatty acids to build developing brain tissue. This leaves the mother with depleted stores of essential fatty acids for her own nervous system health (her body will actually strip her own nerves of the fatty acid to provide it to her infant during pregnancy and while breastfeeding). When her system is depleted of these fatty acids, they are not easy to replenish.

    As a result of this, with each pregnancy, omega-3 supplies in mother and, therefore, baby, are decreased. Mothers with low fatty acid levels have been shown to have higher levels of postpartum depression because of the difficulty the nerves have to pass accurate messages. Because of this, it becomes even more important for mom to supplement her omega-3 intake during pregnancy, particularly in the 3rd trimester when fetal brain development is most rapid.

    There are so many types of fish oil out there, how do I know which one is best?
    When looking for an omega-3 supplement, one needs to find pharmaceutical-grade. This denotes the highest level of purity attainable in these supplements avoiding damaging mercury and PCBs as much as possible. I personally recommend Nordic Naturals to my pregnant patients. I like them because they exceed industry standards, they are of the highest purity, they are used most often by researchers, and lastly, they taste good! (They are strawberry or lemon-flavored, so you don't get the "fishy burps" you often get with other products.) 
    More info about Nordic Naturals

    For more information about fish oil research and references check out:
    Latest fish oil research
    Visit one of the natural pharmacies on the side bar to purchase.

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