Results from a new study, published in EBioMedicine on August 3, show a strong and significant association between low levels of omega-3 fatty acids—found in fish oils—and early preterm birth. Women with the lowest levels in their first and second trimesters were at 10 times increased risk of early preterm birth when compared with pregnant women with the highest levels.
The study was led by a team based at Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut with researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health.
For the study, the researchers used blood samples collected in the Danish National Birth Cohort study. Researchers analyzed blood samples from 376 women who gave birth very prematurely (prior to 34 weeks of gestation) between 1996 and 2003 and 348 women who did not. Specifically, they analyzed the women’s levels of long-chain omega 3s, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA-DHA) in the first and second trimesters.
Women in the lowest quintile of EPA+DHA serum levels—with EPA+DHA levels of 1.6% or less of total plasma fatty acids—had a 10 times higher risk of early preterm birth when compared with women in the three highest quintiles, whose EPA+DHA levels were 1.8% or higher. Women in the second lowest quintile had a 2.7 times higher risk compared with women in the three highest quintiles.