Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is important for good health. Taking DHA as a dietary supplement during pregnancy can help support healthy fetal growth.
This article examines prenatal DHA supplements, the health benefits of DHA during pregnancy, its possible side effects, and recommended dosages, how to choose a quality supplement, other ways to get DHA, and when to speak to a doctor.
Prenatal DHA is a type of vitamin or supplement that contains the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.
Most DHA supplements come from:
- Cod liver oil
- Krill oil
- Fish oil in oily fish like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, and sardines
- Algae oil
In some cases, prenatal DHA pills or liquids contain only DHA. However, prenatal DHA supplements or vitamins may contain other nutrients as well, including:
All forms of omega-3 fatty acids are vital to health, especially during pregnancy. People need to get omega-3s through foods or supplements because the body doesn’t naturally produce them.
The omega-3 DHA is crucial for the healthy development of the eyes, nervous system and brain.
Much research suggests a positive relationship between DHA consumption and visual and cognitive function. However, a recent 2019 study found no difference in cognitive ability or visual acuity in infants whose parents consumed DHA during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Researchers suspect that DHA intake was not high enough to get results or that the testing methods used to check cognitive and visual acuity were not sensitive enough.
Consuming omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy also seems to lower the risk of premature birth.
Additionally, older research links DHA to improved fertility and reproductive egg health.
The benefits of DHA supplementation can extend to pregnant women as well. A 2020 review suggests that DHA may improve mood during late pregnancy and early weeks after giving birth.
Individuals who are allergic or intolerant to seafood, nuts, soy, milk, or other food allergens should ensure that DHA products do not contain these allergens or go through a facility that processes them.
Side effects from taking DHA are usually minor or mild, including:
In some cases, DHA can also interact negatively with supplements or drugs, such as the anticoagulant warfarin.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is no established recommendation for DHA dosage. However, experts recommend that pregnant people consume 200 milligrams (mg) of DHA per day. In addition, most prenatal supplements contain 200 mg of DHA.
In terms of food intake, pregnant women should eat at least two servings of low-mercury shellfish or fish per week before and during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. A serving of fish contains 9-12 ounces (oz).
Most people who live in the United States aren’t getting enough EPA and DHA. The levels of these fatty acids also decrease during pregnancy as DHA is transferred to the fetus through the placenta. This means that individuals need to consume more of the substance in order to have adequate amounts of their own.
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend consuming more than 3 grams (g) of EPA and DHA combined per day, which includes up to 2 grams per day from supplements. Higher DHA consumption can lead to bleeding problems and negatively affect the immune system.
Choosing a good quality prenatal DHA is important – poor quality, unverified products can contain toxins and contaminants. The most advanced refining systems remove almost all of these harmful compounds.
Therefore, it is important to select products with packaging that indicates that a reputable third party organization or laboratory has verified the quality and purity of the product in particles per trillion.
Many trusted organizations set standards that assess the quality and purity of fish oil products, such as the following:
- Responsible Eating Council
- European Pharmacopoeia
- Global organization for EPA & DHA Omega-3s
Be wary of products that exceed the standard maximum levels of harmful heavy metals, toxins, and oxidation set by one or more of these organizations.
It’s also a good idea to choose products that have been shown to be safe and effective in clinical studies. A person can find this information on the leaflet or packaging that comes with the supplement or on the manufacturer’s website.
People who follow a vegetarian diet, have a seafood allergy, or do not want to eat or buy seafood can consume DHA-containing products that come from species of algae or algae. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish actually come from microalgae that build up in the tissues of the fish that eat them.
Many products claim to contain herbal sources of DHA.
However, non-marine plants do not contain DHA – instead they contain the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body converts in small amounts into EHA and then into DHA. Pregnant women should consume at least 1.4 g of ALA daily.
Because seafood can contain heavy metals and toxins, it may be safer for pregnant women to consume foods fortified with DHA, such as:
- I am products
- Baby food
DHA is naturally only found in certain types of fish, some seafood, chicken, and eggs. Studies show that the benefits of consuming moderate amounts of seafood while pregnant tend to outweigh the potential risks, especially when consuming high-quality, low-mercury seafood.
Safe seafood options for pregnant women and their average DHA dose per 100g serving include:
- Farmed Atlantic salmon: 2.24 g
- Atlantic wild salmon: 1.22 g
- Atlantic herring: 0.94 g
- Canned sardines: 0.74 g
- Atlantic mackerel: 0.58 g
- canned pink salmon: 0.63 g
- wild rainbow trout: 0.44 g
- Sea bass: 0.47 g
- wild eastern oysters: 0.23 g
- light canned tuna: 0.27
- Flounder: 0.2-0.5 g
- Crab: 0.2-0.5 g
- Catfish: 0.02 mg or less
- Prawns: 0.12 g
- Tilapia: 0.11 g
- Pacific cod: 0.10 g
- Lobster: 0.07 g
- Scallops: 0.09 g
In addition, a boiled egg typically contains about 0.03 g DHA, while 3 oz of fried chicken breast typically contains 0.02 g DHA.
Pregnant women should only consume one serving of seafood with moderate levels of mercury and other toxins per week. These types of seafood include:
- White and yellowfin tuna
- Blue fish
- Chilean sea bass
- work work
- spotted sea bass
- Sable fish
- Rock fish
- Sea trout
Pregnant women should also avoid types of seafood with a higher mercury content, such as:
- Tile fish
- Bigeye tuna
- King mackerel
- Orange Roughy
Look for fish or fish products that have the “Safe Catch” logo, which shows that the seafood meets purity and quality standards.
Pregnant women should also limit their consumption of seafood that friends or family physically catch to one serving per week and not eat any other fish that week. Individuals should also avoid eating seafood if there are safety or health warnings in the area where a person caught the seafood.
Pregnant women can discuss with their doctor, nutritionist, or nutritionist what supplements or dietary changes they should make to keep themselves and their developing baby safe and healthy.
Individuals taking prescription or over-the-counter medications or supplements should also consult a doctor before taking DHA supplements. You can speak to a doctor if you cannot tolerate DHA supplements or foods rich in DHA.
Adequate DHA intake can be important for healthy fetal development. It can also have positive effects on aspects of pregnancy and a pregnant person’s mood.
People should choose DHA supplements that have undergone independent testing and certification of the safety and purity of the product by a reliable organization.
To avoid negative interactions, people should speak to a doctor before taking DHA if they are also taking other medications or supplements.