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Thursday, March 12, 2009

DHA Overdose?! Really?!

No, not really. Depends. Well, read on.

One day, my 19 weeks pregnant wife asked me to go online to check how much DHA can a pregnant mother take safely. Is there such thing as DHA overdose? Since the DHA supplement we're taking is 300mg per tablet, she just want to be sure that it's not too much.

Well, what the wife wants, the wife gets (usually).

There's a short answer, and a long answer. Being a long-winded kinda guy, I'm gonna give you both LOL! Short answer are for those who just wants the quick answer to the question "Should I take DHA? And how much DHA is recommended?". In the Long Answer, I will give you more information and findings with regards to topic like "Why is DHA important?", "Why is Vitamin A dangerous?", "What kind of fish can I safely eat?" etc. Well, here goes.

Short Answer:-

Q: Can you overdose on DHA?
A: Depends on what it's made of. Some DHA is obtained from liver such as cod liver oil, which contain the Retinol form of Vitamin A, which should be avoided altogether by pregnant mothers since it's toxic. Pregnant mothers should avoid eating food that contains liver. If the DHA is obtain from the body of the fish, then it is safe, and you won't really overdose on that. Also if you're taking DHA supplement, make sure it is molecular distilled or obtained from originating algae. Otherwise it may contain dangerous environmental pollutants such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which can interfere with the development of the baby during pregnancy.

Q: How much DHA should I take?
A: According to Omega3FAQ.com, the National Institutes of Health and the International Society for the Study of Fats and Lipids recommends a minimum of 300 mg of DHA a day.This website recommends that if you don't think your DHA intake is sufficient, you can take 100mg of DHA supplement daily. Generally, if you are taking 2 - 3 servings of fatty fish per week, it should be sufficient. However, be very careful in choosing which fish to eat as some of them has high level of contaminant such as mercury and should be avoided altogther. Look for the title "What type of fish can I eat?" under the Long Answer.

Q: So should I take DHA supplement?
A: If you feel that you are not taking enough DHA, then it's a good idea to supplement, since DHA is particularly important to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. With regards to dosage, anywhere between 100mg to 300mg, depending on your normal diet, should be sufficient.

Thus ends the Short Answer.

Here comes the Long Answer.

Long Answer:-

Q: What is DHA?
A: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an Omega-3 essential fatty acid. DHA is the fundamental building block of the brain.

Q: What are the benefits of DHA?
A: An excerpt taken from the article "The Omega-3 that should be on your mind" by Dr. David Perlmutter says this:
"It is essential that the fetus receive DHA while in the womb for optimal brain and eye development. Moreover, recent studies clearly show that infants who receive optimal levels of DHA in the womb and through nursing perform better on cognitive tests.

But DHA is not just baby food. Clinical studies show that in healthy adults, high consumption of DHA is associated with a reduced risk for developing Alzheimer's, dementia and age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness. Low levels of DHA in red blood cells are associated with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder in children, as well as cognitive decline in the elderly."

According to an article "DHA & Pregnancy: Should women take a DHA supplement while pregnant?", the author, Julie King, listed a few benefits of DHA to pregnant mothers:-
1. DHA & Children's IQ: Studies seems to proof that DHA helps to improve the development of the brain and might actually produce smarter babies.
2. DHA helps to prevent preterm labour: Research has shown that women who take DHA supplements during the last trimester of their pregnancy are more likely to carries their babies to term.
3. DHA & postpartum depression: studies have shown that women who have a higher intake of DHA in pregnancy are less likely to suffer from postpartum depression after giving birth.

The article also says that DHA is found naturally within breastmilk. It is also added to infant formulas because it is believed to be an essential nutrient that helps assist in the brain and eye development in babies and young children.

Read the full article here.

Q: How much DHA should I take?
A: National Institutes of Health and the International Society for the Study of Fats and Lipids recommends that healthy adults consume a minimum of 220 mg of DHA a day. The panel also recommends that pregnant and nursing women consume at least 300 mg of DHA a day.

Q: What are the sources of DHA.
A: Food that contains DHA are :-
- nuts
- seeds
- eggs
- soy beans
- tofu
- cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts
- Cold-water fish, such as mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, black cod, anchovies, and albacore tuna
- Cod liver oil (should be avoided by pregnant mothers as it contains vitamin A)
- Fatty / oily fish
- microalgae
- and of course, fish oil supplements

When you buy fish oil supplements, ensures the quality and purity of the product. Fish oil supplements that have gone through the process of molecular distillation is safer as it will not contain dangerous environmental pollutants such as dioxins, mercury, and PCBs which can interfere with the foetus's development. Another alternative is to go for "fish oil" supplement made of microalgae, which is where the fish got their source of DHA at the first place.

The omega-3 fatty acids found in plants such as whole grains nuts and seeds is ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid), but what you really need are long-chain omega3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA that are found in fatty acids. In theory, our body can convert ALA into the long-chain omega 3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA. However, it's extremely difficult for the body to do so. And, even when it does happen, the amounts produced are too small to have any significant effect. So fatty/oily fish is still the best sourse for DHA and EPA. HOWEVER not all fish are safe to be eaten. Which begs the next question.

Q: What type of fish can I eat?
A: According to The U.S. FDA and EPA:-
"By following these 3 recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, women and young children will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

1. DO NOT eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.

2. Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.

Follow these same recommendations when feeding fish and shellfish to your young child, but serve smaller portions."

You can read the full article by FDA and EPA here, which I highly recommend that you do so.

To get the mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish compiled by FDA and EPA, click here.

You can also read the article "The Best Types of Fish for Health" by Mark Stibich, Ph.D. from About.com.

Q: Why should pregnant mothers avoid liver (including cod liver oil) altogether?
A: Vitamin A comes in two forms, animal based, which is retinol, and plant based which is betacarotene. Liver, and liver products such as pate, liver sausage, even cod liver oil, contains very high levels of the retinol form of vitamin A, which can be harmful to your developing baby, particularly in the first trimester. To read more on this subject, you can visit these 2 websites:-
1. Babycentre.co.uk
2. Bio-medicine.org

In conclusion:
Pregnant and nursing mothers should make it a point to take enough DHA. Eating the recommended amount of fatty fish together with DHA supplement of high quality and purity should give you the sufficient amount of DHA needed for you and your baby. As long as you follow the guidelines found in this post and in all the 3rd party articles provided here in, you should be pretty safe. Of course, feel free to search around for more information if you want and I'd appreciate if you share any interesting findings with me :).

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