Food and Behaviour Research

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Low omega-3 index values and monounsaturated fatty acid levels in early pregnancy: an analysis of maternal erythrocytes fatty acids

Hoge A, Bernardy F, Donneau AF, Dardenne N, DegĂ©e S, Timmermans M, Nisolle M, Guillaume M, Castronovo V. (2018) Lipids Health Dis. 2018 17(1) 63. doi: 10.1186/s12944-018-0716-6. 

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It is unanimously recognized that the maternal nutritional status at the pregnancy onset influence both short-term and long-term health of the mother and offspring. Among several nutrients, LCPUFA, particularly from the omega-3 family, are of utmost importance. This study was carried out to determine fatty acids profile of maternal erythrocyte membranes in early pregnancy and to identify potential determinants impacting on this status.


A cohort of 122 healthy women with a singleton pregnancy was included. Fatty acids were analyzed using gas chromatography. Because of the lack of cutoff values, reference ranges were used to determine fatty acids categories.


Of concern, our data revealed low monounsaturated and long-chain omega-3 fatty acid status in most participants. More than 75% of Belgian pregnant women exhibited Pal, AO and EPA levels as well as IOM3 values below the laboratory reference ranges. Higher DHA concentrations and IOM3 values were found among foreign-nationality participants, non-smokers and physically active women. With regard to dietary factors, omega-3 supplements and diet seem to be complementary since DHA from supplements (but not from diet) and EPA from diet (but not from supplements) were found to be associated with higher concentrations of DHA and EPA, respectively.


Our study presents evidence demonstrating that the fatty acid status of most early pregnant women is far from being optimal based on the admitted general reference values. Clinicians should be advice to carefully evaluate and improve this status to guarantee the best possible outcome for both the mother and the baby.


Erythrocyte; Fatty acidPregnancy


In this study from Belgium, 3/4 of women in early pregnancy were found to have seriously suboptimal blood levels of omega-3.

Low omega-3 status in early life has repeatedly been linked with poorer child developmental outcomes for both mental and physical health. The researchers therefore conclude that clinicians should to try to assess and improve the omega-3 status in mothers-to-be.

Given the relative lack of omega-3 in modern, western-type diets, broader public health initiatives are likely to be needed to achieve this - but randomised controlled trials in both the US and Australia has already shown that increasing omega-3 intake of women in pregnancy via supplementation would actually save government money, even if only the immediate hospital costs are considered. See:

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