DHA Supplementation and Preterm Births

Analysis of two clinical trials – one in the U.S., and one in Australia – suggest that thousands of early preterm births could be prevented if pregnant women took daily DHA supplements. Early preterm births are defined as those at or before 34 weeks’ gestation.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) occurs naturally in cell membranes with the highest levels in brain cells, but levels can be increased by diet or supplements. An infant obtains DHA from his or her mother in utero and from human milk, and the mother’s DHA status determines the amount received by the infant. DHA intakes in both the U.S. and Australia are below average intakes of many other industrialized nations.

The researchers used statistical models to examine low-, moderate- and high-risk births from mothers supplemented with DHA (800 mg/day or 600 mg/day) during pregnancy as compared to placebo controls.

Both the KUDOS study (U.S.) and the DOMinO study (Australia) saw a small overall increase in gestation length, and this increase was found to be related to a decrease in deliveries at higher risk for early preterm birth. The researchers estimated that more than 106,000 high-risk early preterm births could be avoided in the U.S. and about 1,112 could be prevented in Australia each year if pregnant women took daily supplements of the omega fatty acid. The results of both studies provided similar results and showed that early preterm births could be reduced to only 1.3 percent in Australia or 1.5 percent of births in the U.S. in demographically similar populations.

Yelland LN, Gajewski BJ, Colombo J, Gibson RA, Makrides M, Carlson SE. Predicting the effect of maternal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation to reduce early preterm birth in Australia and the United States using results of within country randomized controlled trials. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2016;112:44-9.