Excess omega-3 fatty acid consumption by mothers during pregnancy and lactation caused shorter life span and abnormal ABRs in old adult offspring

Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2010 Mar-Apr;32(2):171-81. doi: 10.1016/j.ntt.2009.09.006. Epub 2009 Oct 7.


Consuming omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3 FA) during pregnancy and lactation is beneficial to fetal and infant development and might reduce the incidence and severity of preterm births by prolonging pregnancy. Consequently, supplementing maternal diets with large amounts of omega-3 FA is gaining acceptance. However, both over- and under-supplementation with omega-3 FA can harm offspring development. Adverse fetal and neonatal conditions in general can enhance age-related neural degeneration, shorten life span and cause other adult-onset disorders. We hypothesized that maternal over- and under-nutrition with omega-3 FA would shorten the offspring's life span and enhance neural degeneration in old adulthood. To test these hypotheses, female Wistar rats were randomly assigned to one of the three diet conditions starting from day 1 of pregnancy through the entire period of pregnancy and lactation. The three diets were Control omega-3 FA (omega-3/omega-6 ratio approximately 0.14), Excess omega-3 FA (omega-3/omega-6 ratio approximately 14.5) and Deficient omega-3 FA (omega-3/omega-6 ratio approximately 0% ratio). When possible, one male and female offspring from each litter were assessed for life span and sensory/neural degeneration (n=15 litters/group). The Excess offspring had shorter life spans compared to their Control and Deficient cohorts (mean+/-SEM=506+/-24, 601+/-14 and 585+/-21 days, p<or=0.004) when the study terminated on postnatal day 640. The Excess offspring had a higher incidence of presbycusis than the Control and Deficient groups (33.3, 4.3 and 4.5%, p=0.011) and a persistence of other sensory/neurological abnormalities and lower body weights in old adulthood. In conclusion, omega-3 FA over-nutrition or imbalance during pregnancy and lactation had adverse effects on life span and sensory/neurological function in old adulthood. The adverse outcomes in the Excess offspring were likely due to a "nutritional toxicity" during fetal and/or neonatal development that programmed them for life-long health disorders. The health implication is that consuming or administering large amounts of omega-3 FA during pregnancy and lactation seems inadvisable because of adverse effects on the offspring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / pathology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / drug effects
  • Auditory Pathways / physiopathology
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Dietary Fats / toxicity
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory, Brain Stem / drug effects*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory, Brain Stem / physiology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Lactation / drug effects
  • Lactation / metabolism
  • Longevity / drug effects*
  • Longevity / physiology
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / pathology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Presbycusis / chemically induced
  • Presbycusis / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Time


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3