By TAP Integrative

It’s no secret that long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) are essential for pregnant women. Research shows that the omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is critical for fetal growth and neural and retinal development, while omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA) helps initiate fetus delivery.

However, there’s been conflicting evidence on whether maternal DHA supplementation affects the length of gestation. A 2016 study published in PLoS ONE set out to determine whether certain mechanistic pathways link LC-PUFA status with gestation. The researchers reported several findings:

  • Inflammation and poor sleep quality serve as significant mediators that link DHA and AA ratios to gestation times.
  • Adjusting for age, income, body mass index, depressive symptoms, or smoking didn’t affect this link.
  • African-American women’s odds of preterm birth decreased significantly as their DHA/AA ratio increased. But the same association wasn’t present among European-American women.

The study involved 135 women in the middle stage of pregnancy. Sixty percent of the women were African-American. The researchers measured the levels of DHA and AA in the women’s red blood cells, along with serum inflammatory markers. Each woman also used the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index to assess her sleep quality.

The researchers found that women of all races with lower DHA/AA ratios had higher inflammation levels, poorer sleep-quality measures, and shorter gestation periods compared to the women with higher ratios. The women with higher red blood cell counts of DHA had significantly better-quality sleep, no matter their race.

But only the African-American women had the link between low DHA/AA ratios and preterm births. The researchers concluded that continued assessment of racial differences in regard to the effect of suboptimal LC-PUFA intake is warranted.


Christian LM, Blair LM, et al. Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA) Status in Pregnant Women: Associations with Sleep Quality, Inflammation, and Length of Gestation. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0148752.

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease