August 29, 2007/The Scotsman -- Pregnant women should be taking a daily supplement of omega-3 acids to help promote healthy births and help child development, an EU committee has recommended.

A study has concluded that both pregnant and nursing mothers should take 200mg of a form of omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) -- found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel.

The committee, the Perinatal Lipid Nutrition Group (PeriLip) and the Early Nutrition Programming Project said it had found that women who included DHA in their diet had healthier pregnancies, that their children had higher birth weights and that they experienced fewer premature births.

The benefits were shown to extend beyond birth, where DHA intake was linked to brain and eye development.

However, the committee said diets of western mothers tended to be low in foods needed to get the necessary dose.

Professor Stewart Forsyth, consultant paediatrician and medical director at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, said it was important that mothers understood the benefits: "There is a limited awareness of the role of omegas in infant development.

"Over the last 10 years, many studies have highlighted the importance of DHA omega-3 during pregnancy and nursing, and this research has confirmed the benefits for unborn babies and for infant development. It is crucial that expectant and new mothers understand the benefits of DHA omega-3 and consume the recommended intake during pregnancy and nursing."

DHA supplements have been linked with affecting various ailments and conditions.

Recent evidence has suggested it can ease the symptoms of disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, dyslexia and Alzheimer's.

The committee said the European Food Standards Agency currently advised that the consumption of two portions of fatty sea fish to gain the necessary DHA was safe for pregnant and breast-feeding women.

It advised that DHA could also be found in other forms, including algae-based supplements, suitable for vegetarians.

However, last night Dr. Tim Draycott, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said any supplement should be added cautiously.

"If it improves birth weights and birth outcome for both mother and child, then it is to be welcomed, but we have to be careful that it is 100% a good thing and that there are no potential bad side-effects."

Draycott said initial hopes that high doses of vitamins A and E would have a positive effect were found not to be true.

He also said that the belief that cod liver oil was universally good for expectant mothers had been debunked.

"It was always thought this was a positive thing, but we have now found it can make a mother's blood pressure worse.

"Apart from folic acid and perhaps iron for mothers suffering anaemia, the general rule is that less is more when it comes to supplements for expectant mothers."

From the September 10, 2007, Prepared Foods e-Flash