Effect of alpha-linolenic acid supplementation during pregnancy on maternal and neonatal polyunsaturated fatty acid status and pregnancy outcome

Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Feb;79(2):251-60. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/79.2.251.


Background: Maternal essential fatty acid status declines during pregnancy, and as a result, neonatal concentrations of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) and arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4n-6) may not be optimal.

Objective: Our objective was to improve maternal and neonatal fatty acid status by supplementing pregnant women with a combination of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3n-3) and linoleic acid (LA, 18:2n-6), the ultimate dietary precursors of DHA and AA, respectively.

Design: From week 14 of gestation until delivery, pregnant women consumed daily 25 g margarine supplying either 2.8 g ALA + 9.0 g LA (n = 29) or 10.9 g LA (n = 29). Venous blood was collected for plasma phospholipid fatty acid analyses at weeks 14, 26, and 36 of pregnancy, at delivery, and at 32 wk postpartum. Umbilical cord blood and vascular tissue samples were collected to study neonatal fatty acid status also. Pregnancy outcome variables were assessed.

Results: ALA+LA supplementation did not prevent decreases in maternal DHA and AA concentrations during pregnancy and, compared with LA supplementation, did not increase maternal and neonatal DHA concentrations but significantly increased eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosapentaenoic acid (22:5n-3) concentrations. In addition, ALA+LA supplementation lowered neonatal AA status. No significant differences in pregnancy outcome variables were found.

Conclusions: Maternal ALA+LA supplementation did not promote neonatal DHA+AA status. The lower concentrations of Osbond acid (22:5n-6) in maternal plasma phospholipids and umbilical arterial wall phospholipids with ALA+LA supplementation than with LA supplementation suggest only that functional DHA status improves with ALA+LA supplementation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Weight / drug effects
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / blood*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Nutritional Status
  • Postpartum Period / blood*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / administration & dosage
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / metabolism
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Dietary Fats
  • alpha-Linolenic Acid
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids