Omega-3 DHA and the Developing Brain During Pregnancy

Our brains are literally swimming in fats which enable the brain to transmit electrical signals effectively and DHA is the major polyunsaturated fatty acid present in brain tissue.

First, some terminology:

  • Omega-3 fatty acid: a fatty acid with a double bond between carbons at carbon number three.
  • DHA: docosahexanoic acid (doc-osa-hexa-noic), a long chain omega-3 fatty acid, comprising 22 carbons. Not able to be synthesised in the body, must be taken in the diet. Major polyunsaturated fatty acid in the brain tissue and also vital component of retinal tissue (eyes.)
  • AA: arachidonic acid (arach-i-donic), a long chain omega-6 fatty acid (double bond at carbon number 6), comprising 20 carbons. Dominant fatty acid in the brain tissue.
  • Lipid bilayer: a double layered lipid (fat) molecule structure forming the basis of all cells. Lipid molecules surround the cell contents from the inner wall of the cell and the outer wall of the cell and play a vital role in cellular function.

And now for some facts:

  • The fluidity and rigidity of the lipid bilayer directly contributes to the function of the cell, so the better the building material of the fat molecule, the better the cell membrane.
  • The cell membrane’s job is to be a gatekeeper, regulating what comes in and what goes out and when the membrane is full up with omega-3s then it performs its role optimally.
  • When DHA is not available the brain will select a derivative of arachidonic acid, DPA (docoasapentanoic acid) to sit in its place, but the preference is for DHA ~ the brain is hungry for DHA.
  • The visual cycle also largely depends on DHA for its function, in both animal studies and studies of premature babies or those who have been fed DHA deficient diets (poor quality formula) there exists impaired visual function.
  • Two critical periods for accumulation of DHA into the tissue of the brain and retina are during the third trimester of pregnancy and in the months following birth until the brain and retina are biochemically complete in their development ~ however essential fatty acids  are required for growth and development from conception.
  • During fetal growth the placenta and the fetus rely solely on the mother as a source of DHA, some 600g of essential fatty acids (EFAs) are transmitted from mother to fetus ~ even if the maternal concentration of EFAs are low.

Katie180’s professional opinion:

During pregnancy and beyond, a diet with a mindful focus on essential fatty acids and supplementation with high quality EFA supplements is considered prudent, not only for the developing baby but also for the mother. Mother needs her brain supplied with EFAs also!

As well as surrounding the brain tissue, EFAs contribute to maternal health (EVERYone’s health!) via their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

Personally I rely mostly on supplements for my EFAs as I am allergic to seafood, well I was as a child and may have grown out of this allergy but haven’t ever been brave enough to test it out as it was a serious, life-threatening allergy.

I take Phytocare Fresh Catch Cod Liver Oil* x 2 teaspoons per day (this is a double regular dose but I’m doubling up for Bubs.) I take the Cod Liver Oil over the Fish Oil as I can tolerate the oil extracted from the liver as opposed to the flesh. And I also take their Chia Smoothie (chia oil/gel) x 1 teaspoon a day alongside SP, who needs to be supplemented as she as yet does not eat fish and would not take a regular fish oil supplement.

I also include chia seeds in my diet as often as I can and the other fats I eat are real butter, coconut oil, olive oil and only occasionally will I eat vegetable oil and this is when it’s out of my hands (i.e. takeaway.)

I do NOT eat or cook with vegetable oils at home (sunflower, canola, peanut, margarine etc.), these directly compete with omega-3s for absorption and uptake into the blood stream and cell membranes and I cannot afford any higher a ratio of omega-6:omega-3s in my diet as I don’t eat seafood.

Do I notice a difference if I don’t supplement with omega-3s?

Yes! and this is not just because I am a nutritionist, I can genuinely attest to the signs and symptoms if I am tardy with my omega-3 supplements for about a week or so: mostly dry, cracking skin on the palms of my hands and around my mouth. These are the first to show up.

I have written on the subject of omega-3s on more than one occasion, I am passionate about them! Here are the posts:

Top5 ~ Chia Seeds.

Omega-3s ~ more please!

Essential Fatty Acids.

Essential fatty acids are ESSENTIAL and I doubt anybody would NOT benefit from increasing their dietary intake or supplementing with them.

Mood, concentration, sleep, anxiety, tissue trauma, allergies, inflammation, skin, reproductive system, vision, immunity ALL depend on adequate supply of good quality fatty acids in our cells, otherwise when called upon the cells are going to be coming to the front line with poor quality fats and as such, poorer quality biochemical reactions.

~Yours LOVING omega-3s so hardcore. K180, x

Please go and buy some and do give Phytocare a whirl, they’re CHOICE products with integrity, quality, a pretty palatable taste (I mix the cod liver oil w’ a small glass of organic apple juice) and I back them all the way (TOTALLY not sponsored or requested to say any of this BTW.) *Buy Phytocare products from HERE!



Uauy R and Dangour A. Nutrition in Brain Development and Aging: Role of Essential Fatty Acids. Nutr Reviews, (2006);64:S24-33.

Koletzko B, Aggett P.J., Bindels J.G., Bung P., Ferre P. Gil A. et al. Growth, development and differentiation: a functional food science approach. British Journal of Nutrition (1998);80:S5-S45.

Connor W. Importance of n-3 fatty acids in health and disease. Amer Jnl Clin Nutr. (2000);71:S171-5.














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