Pregnancy, DHA, + Children’s Body Mass

By: Mark Lange, PhD

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation has a favorable effect on the fetus that influences body composition in early childhood. But what is DHA and what are those effects?

What is DHA?

DHA is highly concentrated in the brain and is required for optimal health during early development.

“DHA is a nutrient found in the highest concentrations in oily fish such as salmon and tuna, foods many Americans don’t eat a lot of, so they tend to get low intakes,”

-Susan Carlson

U.S. intakes are low which is alarming as DHA is concentrated in the brain where it increases dramatically in the last trimester of pregnancy and the first two years of life.  It can be delivered to the fetus by increasing maternal intake during pregnancy but can also be increased by increasing maternal intake during lactation, which increases DHA in the mother’s milk.


The Study:

In the study, women with low-risk pregnancies who were in the Kansas City aera were enrolled in the study at University of Kansas Medical Center’s Maternal and Child Nutrition and Development Lab. Half of these participants were randomly assigned to a prenatal DHA supplement of 600 milligrams, and the other half were given a placebo.

Five years later, children resulting from those pregnancies were measured for body fat and fat-free mass.


The Results:

The researchers found the children whose mothers took DHA supplementation had an average of 1.3 pounds more fat-free mass and the same amount of fat at age 5 compared with the placebo group. In other words, the children were leaner and had a healthier growth outcome!

The benefits of DHA are well established in visual, cognitive and behavioral development in early life, but this is the first study indicated DHA may also affect healthy growth outcome in children. One participating researcher noted that the results agreed with another study undertaken in the UK.  She suggested pregnant women seeking to increase their intake of DHA wouldn’t have to look far to find good sources!