Fish Oil and Vision: Does it or Doesn’t it Help?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jonas N

For some time now, researchers have been telling us about the many benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. In particular, they’ve noted how DHA Omega-3 fatty acids, which are most commonly found in fish oil, could produce a significant amount of benefit for baby. It’s been thought that fish oil might help to improve vision for preterm babies that are given Omega-3s during the first few months after they’re born. Some new information, however, is calling that assumption into question.

DHA, which stands for “docosahexaenoic acid,” is essential to brain development as well as visual development. In a normal pregnancy, DHA will pass through the placenta and help a baby develop during those last few weeks before birth. Expectant mothers, then, should be able to help their baby’s development by taking fish oil supplements. Preterm babies don’t get those DHA Omega-3s from their mothers, so they may be given supplements.

An Australian study took aim at fish oil, and tried to determine whether the mother taking fish oil supplements from the middle of pregnancy through birth would provide any vision benefit to their babies. The study looked at 185 babies born to mothers who either took DHA fish oil capsules or a placebo. The study showed no difference between babies born to moms in either category.

Overall nutrition better than supplements

Researchers are somewhat puzzled by the results. If fish oil can benefit babies born preterm, why wouldn’t it benefit babies born at full term? Part of the reasoning lies with the pregnant woman’s diet. If the diet is already balanced and contains enough of certain kinds of nutrients, the baby isn’t as likely to see a need for DHA to enhance their visual development.

Other research over the past couple of years has looked at the other possible benefits of DHAs and taking fish oil during pregnancy. It’s been suggested that the mom taking DHA fish oil supplements might help with cognitive functioning and language skills. Here again, research seems to see no difference, at least among full-term babies.

So, what’s the bottom line? There may still be benefits to taking fish oil supplements, and there’s certainly no harm shown, so you should definitely consider it. That said, supplements aren’t a substitute for a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.

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