Effect of n-3 Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Intake during Pregnancy on Maternal, Infant, and Child Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review


Beth Imhoff-Kunsch, MPH, PhD, Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, 1599 Clifton Road, N.E. – GHI Rm 6.431, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA. E-mail: beth.imhoffkunsch@gmail.com


Evidence from observational studies and randomised trials has suggested a potential association between intake of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) during pregnancy and certain pregnancy and birth outcomes. Marine foods (e.g. fatty sea fish, algae) and select freshwater fish contain pre-formed n-3 LCPUFA, which serve as precursors for bioactive molecules (e.g. prostaglandins) that influence a variety of biological processes. The main objective of this analysis was to summarise evidence of the effect of n-3 LCPUFA intake during pregnancy on select maternal and child health outcomes. Searches were performed in PubMed, EMBASE, and other electronic databases to identify trials where n-3 LCPUFA were provided to pregnant women for at least one trimester of pregnancy. Data were extracted into a standardised abstraction table and pooled analyses were conducted using RevMan software. Fifteen randomised controlled trials were eligible for inclusion in the meta-analysis, and 14 observational studies were included in the general review. n-3 LCPUFA supplementation during pregnancy resulted in a modest increase in birthweight (mean difference = 42.2 g; [95% CI 14.8, 69.7]) and no significant differences in birth length or head circumference. Women receiving n-3 LCPUFA had a 26% lower risk of early preterm delivery (<34 weeks) (RR = 0.74; [95% CI 0.58, 0.94]) and there was a suggestion of decreased risk of preterm delivery (RR = 0.91; [95% CI 0.82, 1.01]) and low birthweight (RR = 0.92; [95% CI 0.83, 1.02]). n-3 LCPUFA in pregnancy did not influence the occurrence of pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, infant death, or stillbirth. Our review of observational studies revealed mixed findings, with several large studies reporting positive associations between fish intake and birthweight and several reporting no associations. In conclusion, n-3 LCPUFA supplementation during pregnancy resulted in a decreased risk of early preterm delivery and a modest increase in birthweight. More studies in low- and middle-income countries are needed to determine any effect of n-3 LCPUFA supplementation in resource-poor settings, where n-3 PUFA intake is likely low.