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


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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