Pregnant Women Should Discuss DHA Intake With Health Care Provider Interview with:

Susan E. Carlson

Dr. Carlson

Susan E. Carlson Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Research
Program Director,, AJ Rice Professor
Department of Dietetics and Nutrition
University of Kansas Medical Center
Kansas City, KS What is the background for this study? What are its benefits?

Response: DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid. Good food sources include some types of seafood (e.g., salmon, tuna, trout) and chicken eggs. Persons in the USA and in much of the developing world consume little dietary DHA. DHA supplements in pregnancy have been linked to lower risk of preterm birth for 20 years, especially early preterm births (<34 weeks gestation). For about 10 years, prenatal supplements with about 200 mg DHA have been readily available in the USA, however, no study has asked if this amount of DHA is optimal to reduce early preterm birth. Participants were given a supplement of 1000 mg or 200 mg DHA beginning before 20 weeks gestation using an adaptive randomization that periodically assigned more participants to the group with the fewest early preterm births. What are the main findings?

Response: The primary outcome was a lower rate of early preterm birth in participants assigned to the higher compared to the lower DHA supplement (1.7% vs 2.4%). Preterm birth (<37 weeks gestation) was a secondary outcome. The group assigned to the higher dose also had a lower rate of preterm birth, 8.2% vs 11.0%. The higher dose was also associated with fewer maternal and infant serious adverse events.

The subgroup of participants with low DHA status at baseline (47% of the cohort) who were assigned to the higher dose had half the rate of early preterm birth (2.0% vs 4.1%) while participants with high enrollment DHA status had a low rate of early preterm birth with both doses (1.4, 1.1%). What should readers take away from your report?

Response: This study tells us that pregnant women should be taking DHA during pregnancy, and many would benefit from a higher amount than in most prenatal supplements. Ideally, pregnant women should be consulting with their doctor and getting their DHA levels tested to ensure they are taking enough DHA to reduce their risk of preterm birth. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: There is a need to educate clinicians caring for pregnant women and women, who are pregnant or planning to be, about the importance of DHA intake. Beyond that, clinicians need the resources to efficiently test DHA status. Our latest research is evaluating DHA intake as a pragmatic way compared to a blood test to determine pregnancies that could benefit most from a higher level of DHA supplementation. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The study was designed and conducted by a team lead by Drs. Susan E. Carlson, Christina J. Valentine and Byron J. Gajewski. It was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01HD083292). The DHA supplement was donated by Life’s DHATM-S oil, DSM Nutritional Products LLC, Switzerland. All members of the team have had a long interest in DHA as a nutrient for maternal and infant health; and Dr. Carlson has received funding from DSM for other research and honoraria for presenting results of her research in he past.

Editor’s note: Before you buy supplements for yourself during pregnancy or feed supplements to your baby after birth, be sure to talk to your doctor


Higher dose docosahexaenoic acid supplementation during pregnancy and early preterm birth: A randomised, double-blind, adaptive-design superiority trial
Carlson, Susan E et al.
EClinicalMedicine, Volume 0, Issue 0, 100905



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Last Updated on May 22, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD