Why do pregnant and lactating women, who so critically need DHA, find it difficult to get the recommended amount of this crucial nutrient in their diets? There are two primary reasons. First, during pregnancy the daily requirements of DHA increase from 220 mg to somewhere between 300 and 1,000 mg (depending on which expert you consult). Second, DHA isn't easy to get in your diet -- especially when you are pregnant. Significant amounts of DHA are found in animal organ meats and fatty fish.
Not the typical menu for most pregnant women! Liver does not hold mass appeal and we're told to limit our intake of fish due to concerns over toxins. No wonder a recent study of 112 pregnant or lactating women found that fewer than 2 percent met the FDA's current guidelines for adequate daily DHA consumption.
So what should pregnant women do to safely increase the DHA in their diets? A friend of mine began grinding flax seed onto her cereal every morning. Unfortunately putting flax seed on your cereal is probably a waste of time. Despite popular belief DHA is not found in flax seed, Flax seed (and green leafy vegetables) are sources of alpha-linolenic acid which may convert to DHA, but the process is inefficient and according to some experts may not happen at all.
Alternatively you might choose to eat some of the "safer" fish choices such as pollock, haddock and cod. But according to Dr. Barbara Levine, associate professor of nutrition in medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, "the purest source of DHA is not the fish itself, but rather what fish consume: the ocean's vegetarian plant algae. Taking DHA supplements produced from marine algae is therefore a safe way for pregnant women to boost their fatty acid stores," Levine says.
Martek Biosciences owns the technology that allows DHA to be manufactured from algae. DHA supplements made with Martek DHA are now available in health food and drug stores, as well as some maternity stores. If you don't want to take yet another pill, look for other foods fortified with Martek DHA.
As leaders in all areas of maternal and child health continue to speak out about the importance of DHA for pregnant women, we can expect to see more food manufacturers offering products fortified with DHA. It takes time, but the word gets out. As Dr. Levine states, "It took forever to get the message across about the importance of folic acid early in pregnancy, but now it is in our products and most women get what they need. Now we are trying to get the message out about DHA."
Thanks to perinatal health education efforts and thoughtful manufacturing today's mothers-to-be and new moms can ensure their babies get the DHA they need to thrive. DHA is critical for developing babies during pregnancy and lactation - the benefits of this fatty acid last forever.
Beth Vincent is CEO and co-founder of Vincent Foods LLC. Beth holds a Masters degree from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Health Policy and Management. She has extensive knowledge in public health and maternal and child health having worked as a health care consultant specializing in maternal and child health and as a birthing doula prior to starting her company. Beth is a mother of three and lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Copyright © Beth Vincent. Permission to reprint granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.