Focus on fertility nutrition: omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, sometimes called omega-3 oils play an important role in the human diet and in the human body. They are:

  • Essential to normal growth in young children and animals
  • Found in high abundance in the human brain
  • Involved in the immune response.

They are widely found in nature and there are three main types that are important in the human body. These are alpha linolenic acid (ALA) found in plant oils, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both found in fish oils.

Types of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA)

Health authorities in different countries have recognized the importance of these essential nutrients. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave DHA a qualified health claim. They stated,  “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of  omega−3 fatty acids (DHA) may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

Similarly, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recognized the importance of DHA saying, “DHA, an omega−3 fatty acid, supports the normal physical development of the brain, eyes and nerves primarily in children under two years of age.”

Omega-3 fatty acids aids fertility

Firstly, omega-3 fatty acids may improve ovulation. Consumption of DHA has been shown to increase progesterone, a hormone that regulates the condition of the lining of the uterus that is essential for pregnancy. In another US National Institute of Health study, a link between female reproductive lifespan and intake of omega-3 fatty acids was found. It was determined that a lifelong consumption of a diet rich in omega-3s could increase the egg quality and the health of the ovarian reserve of older mothers.

It’s role in IVF

It appears that women who are contemplating assisted reproductive technology, such as IVF can also benefit from these nutrients. An Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study found that the probability of pregnancy and live births increased for women who regularly consumed omega-3 fatty acids.

Latest research

Recent animal studies at the University of Colorado have found that mice with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids seem to have more precursors to egg cells than other mice. This means they had a larger reserve of eggs-to-be. On further examination the researchers also found that the quality of the eggs was better among the mice with higher levels of omega 3s.

Sources of omega-3s

As mentioned, there are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, DHA and EHA.

ALA is found in plant oils, good sources include hazel nuts, walnuts and linseed/hemp oil. The other two, EHA and DHA, are found in fish oils and good sources include herring, cod and tuna. Red meat and eggs also contain good concentrations of EHA and DHA. Dr. Malgorzata Skaznik-Wikiel, Obstetrician-Gyneacologist who led the University of Colorado study said, “Our study shows that there may be some relationship between dietary factors and things like egg quality so one idea may be recommending supplementation with omega 3s to improve fertility. We hope in the future to have more answers to be able to say firmly that yes, omega 3 fatty acids are the way to go for women hoping to get pregnant. But even without that firm answer at this point I don’t see the harm in supplementing.”

Given that omega-3 intake can easily be increased simply by making a few healthy changes to your diet, there is no reason not to take up her advice.

Caution: always consult your healthcare professional before changing your diet or taking any dietary supplements.