Loss of a pregnancy, also known as a miscarriage, occurs in 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies, often during the first trimester, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you’ve had a miscarriage, chances are you will go on to have other successful pregnancies. However, some women can have repeated miscarriages due to an autoimmune condition known as antiphospholipid syndrome. Scientific research suggests consuming fish oil can help prevent miscarriage in pregnant women with the potentially life-threatening condition.
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Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, an important unsaturated fat that is known to reduce the risk of certain diseases and conditions such as cancer, arthritis, stroke and heart disease. For pregnant women, two omega 3-fatty acids — docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA — are particularly important for labor and delivery, and fetal development. Research shows DHA and EPA lower the risk of pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia — high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy — help prevent pre-term labor, and are important for infant development of the central nervous system, brain and eyes, notes the American Pregnancy Association. Good sources of fish oil include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout and sardines.
Loss of a fetus before 20 weeks of pregnancy is known as a miscarriage or spontaneous abortion. While doctors do not know what causes a miscarriage, infections, problems with a woman’s uterus or cervix, smoking, cocaine or drug use, environmental toxins, and certain disorders such as poorly controlled diabetes or hypothyroidism may increase your risk of having a miscarriage. Symptoms include vaginal bleeding or spotting, abdominal cramping, dizziness or lightheadedness, and passing of fetal tissue from the vagina. In some cases, you may not experience any symptoms and may have a miscarriage before even learning you are pregnant.
Antiphospholipid syndrome is a condition in which your immune system produces antibodies that attack phospholipids, a type of fat found in blood cells and the lining of blood vessels. The resulting damage to the cells causes blood clots to form within your arteries and veins. In pregnant women, blood clots form in the placenta, leaving the baby with no nutrients and causing complications such as miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, premature delivery and impaired fetal growth, according to the APS Foundation of America, Inc. An estimated 10 to 25 percent of women who have repeated miscarriages have the condition, with most pregnancies ending in miscarriage late in the first trimester or early second trimester, the foundation adds.
A study in the October 1993 issue of the journal “Lupus” found fish oil is beneficial for women with antiphospholipid syndrome who had recurrent miscarriages. According to the researchers, of 22 women with the condition who were given 5.1 g of fish oil each day until delivery, 21 had successful pregnancies.
Some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury and other environmental toxins such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that are known to harm developing babies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends women consume no more than 12 oz. of fish each week and avoid tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish and shark as they contain high levels of mercury. Fish oil supplements are also a safe alternative for pregnant women, advises the American Pregnancy Association, as the manufacturing and processing of fish oil eliminates almost all toxins. In high doses, fish oil can increase your chance of bleeding. If you are considering taking a fish oil supplement, talk to your doctor.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- American Pregnancy Association; Omega-3 Fish Oil and Pregnancy; August 2009
- APS Foundation of America, Inc.; Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome; November 2010
- “Lupus”; Fish Oil Derivatives as a Prophylaxis of Recurrent Miscarriage Associated With Antiphospholipid Antibodies — APL — A Pilot Study; Edoardo Rossi, et al.; October 1993
- EPA; What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish; May 2011
- MayoClinic.com; Antiphospholipid Syndrome; April 2011
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Miscarriage; June 2010
- MedlinePlus; Fish Oil; February 2011