Omega 3 Benefits for Women and Infants
The impact of omega 3’s on human health is one of those topics that the closer you look, the more there is to see. For example, you probably already know that there are benefits for the heart and cardiac systems. But you might not know about the impressive omega 3 benefits for women in particular.
Pregnant and nursing women
To appreciate the omega 3 benefits for women and infants, a great place to start is the effect of omega 3’s on the nutritional value of mother’s milk. Researchers have found that babies of mothers with higher levels of the omega 3 DHA at delivery had advanced levels of attention spans, well into their second year of life.
The significance of this point, according to an article on WebMD, is that “attention is considered an important, but not the only, component of intelligence early in life.” In addition, the article observed that “during the first six months of life, these infants were two months ahead of those babies whose mothers had lower DHA levels.”
Two interesting studies into the health benefits of omega 3’s were conducted by Danish investigators. In their first study, they found that women who consumed substantially more omega 3’s (and fewer omega 6’s) had gestation periods averaging four days longer than women on standard diets; what’s more, their babies’ average weight was averaged almost 7 ounces greater than the women consumer much lower levels of omega 3’s.
In a follow-up study, the Danish investigators compared women who consumed omega 3’s in fish oil supplements vs. women taking olive oil supplements and a control group. The results closely paralleled the earlier study: the women consuming fish oil had gestational periods averaging four days longer than women taking either olive oil or no supplement, and their babies also weighed 3.75 ounces more than babies born to the women in the olive oil group, and 1.5 ounces more than those born to those mothers not taking supplements.
Another aspect of omega 3 benefits for women is in the area of reducing the risk of breast cancer. A study in China reviewed the results of 26 international studies involving nearly a million women including 20,000 who had breast cancer, and determined that that those who had consumed the highest levels of omega 3’s from fish were 14 percent less likely to have breast cancer than those who ate the least.
The review also identified what researchers term a dose-response relationship: for each 0.1-gram increase in omega 3 per day, there was a 5 percent lower risk of having breast cancer. For comparison, a serving of an oily fish such as salmon contains about 4 grams of omega 3 fatty acids. However, consuming omega 3 ALAs, the type present in certain plants, did not appear to reduce the risk.
Omega 3’s have also shown potential for helping older women reduce their risk for hip fractures.
According to data on the website of the Centers for Disease Control, this is big news — partly because women account for three-quarters of the approximately 258,000 hospital admissions for hip fractures among people aged 65 and older. It’s also because hip fractures are such a serious injury: One out of five patients who suffer a hip fracture, CDC notes, die within a year of their injury.
Fortunately, it’s omega 3’s to the rescue. According to a study explained in the March 2013 issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, researchers at Ohio State University found that higher levels of omega 3’s may reduce risks for hip fractures in postmenopausal women.
Another aspect of possible benefits from omega 3’s is in the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. According to the authors of a study published in the British journal Women’s Health, there is strong evidence that “Omega-3 fatty acids could play an important role in maintaining cognitive function in aging individuals.” They also point out that the omega 3 fatty acid DHA (and to a much smaller degree, EPA) are major components of neuronal membranes and the cortex, the folded outer layer of the brain that plays an important role in consciousness.
While the study notes the need for further investigation to better understand the impact of omega 3’s to prevent or lessen the effects of Alzheimers and other forms of dementia, the article observes, “Alzheimer’s disease patients have decreased serum, brain and neuronal DHA levels compared with age-matched controls, suggesting that a DHA deficiency could contribute to cognitive impairment.”
Clearly, the omega 3 benefits for women and infants are impressive — providing improved health benefits from the birth through advanced age. With all the major studies underway around the world, it’s likely that we’ll continue to learn more about the mechanisms for this healthful effect.
Stay tuned to learn more about the benefits of omega 3s!