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Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1 Suppl):285S-91S.

Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, pregnancy, and pregnancy outcome.

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  • 1Department of Human Biology, Maastricht University, Netherlands.


During pregnancy, essential long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) play important roles as precursors of prostaglandins and as structural elements of cell membranes. Throughout gestation, accretion of maternal, placental, and fetal tissue occurs and consequently the LCPUFA requirements of pregnant women and their developing fetuses are high. This is particularly true for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3). The ratio of DHA to its status marker, docosapentaenoic acid (22:5n-6), in maternal plasma phospholipids decreases significantly during pregnancy. This suggests that pregnancy is associated with maternal difficulty in coping with the high demand for DHA. The DHA status of newborn multiplets is significantly lower than that of singletons; the same is true for infants of multigravidas as compared with those of primigravidas and for preterm compared with term neonates. Because the LCPUFA status at birth seems to have a long-term effect, the fetus should receive an adequate supply of LCPUFAs. Data from an international comparative study indicated that, especially for n-3 LCPUFAs, the fetus is dependent on maternal fatty acid intake; maternal supplementation with LCPUFAs, their precursors, or both increased LCPUFA concentrations in maternal and umbilical plasma phospholipids. However, significant competition between the 2 LCPUFA families was observed, which implies that effective supplementation requires a mixture of n-6 and n-3 fatty acids. Further research is needed to determine whether higher LCPUFA concentrations in plasma phospholipid will have functional benefits for mothers and children.

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