DHA supplementation during pregnancy decreased the occurrence of colds in children at 1 month and reduced illness symptom duration at 1, 3 and 6 months

Topics: Omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs), pregnancy, infant morbidity
Background: The beneficial effects of DHA intake during pregnancy through either maternal diet or supplement use on cognitive development during infancy has been well known for over a decade. This knowledge has resulted in an official recommendation for women to consume at least 200 mg/DHA daily during pregnancy. However, intake of LC-PUFAs            also influences immune cell function, but few studies have investigated the extent to which DHA supplementation during pregnancy can benefit infant morbidity.

Objective: To determine the impact of DHA supplementation during pregnancy on infant morbidity.

Method: This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial included 1094 pregnant women who took either 400 mg of algal sourced DHA or a placebo daily from 18-22 weeks’ gestation through parturition.

Inclusion criteria: gestation week 18-22, aged 18-35 years, planned to deliver at the IMSS General Hospital Inn Cuernavaca, planned to breast feed after delivery, and planned to live in the area for 2 years.

Exclusion criteria: high risk pregnancy, lipid metabolism/absorption disorders, regular intake of fish oil or DHA supplements, chronic use of certain medications

The infants were assessed at ages 1 (n=849), 3 (n=834) and 6 (n= 834) months for the occurrence and duration of the following common illness symptoms in the preceding 15 days:

Colds, Cough

Phlegm, Nasal congestion



Vomiting, Diarrhoea


Nasal secretion, Difficulty breathing

Other illness

Findings:  1)  The occurrence of specific illness symptoms was not different between groups.  However, the occurrence of combined cold symptoms was lower in the DHA group at 1 month (OR:0.76; 95% CI:0.58-1.00)

2) At 1 month, the DHA group experienced a 26%, 15% and 30% shorter duration of cough, phlegm and wheezing, respectively, but 22% longer duration of rash (all p=/< 0.01).

3)  At month 3, infants in the DHA group were ill 14% less of the time (p<0.0001)

4) At 6 months, infants in the DHA group experienced 20%, 13%, 54%, 23% and 25% shorter duration of fever, nasal secretion, difficulty breathing, rash and other illness respectively, but 74% longer duration of vomiting (all p<0.05)

Conclusion:  DHA supplementation during pregnancy decreased the occurrence of colds in children at 1 month and reduced illness symptom duration at 1, 3 and 6 months.

Relevance to Efanatal, Efalex Mother & Baby, Efamol Mother & Baby

Reference: Imhoff-Kunsch B, Stein AD, Martorell R, Parra-Cabrera S, Romieu I et al. Prenatal Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation and infant morbidity: Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics 2001;Aug 1 [Epub ahead of print]. Doi:10.1542/peds. 2010-1386.

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