Higher omega-3 index and DHA status in pregnant women compared to lactating women - Results from a German nation-wide cross-sectional study

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2016 Jun;109:22-8. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2016.04.002. Epub 2016 Apr 19.


Introduction: During pregnancy and lactation, there is a high need of long-chain (LC) omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 PUFA), especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), for fetus and infant. Also, a low LC n-3 PUFA status during pregnancy is associated with postpartum depression. The aim of this cross-sectional study was to analyze the LC n-3 PUFA status in German women during pregnancy and lactation.

Material and methods: As a part of a nationwide cross-sectional study in which the nutrient status of women in different stages of life was determined, 213 pregnant (≥27th week of gestation) and 127 lactating women between 18 and 44 years were evaluated regarding their LC n-3 PUFA status by measuring the omega-3 index (relative eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA concentration in erythrocyte fatty acid).

Results: The mean omega-3 index of the total study population was 6.23±1.48%. Pregnant women showed significant (p≤0.001) higher omega-3 index values (6.40±1.31%) and DHA concentrations (5.91±1.23%) than lactating women (omega-3 index: 5.50±1.34%; DHA: 4.79±1.27%). Woman with LC n-3 PUFA supplementation showed higher omega-3 index values (7.73±1.28%) vs. women without supplementation (6.04±1.39%, p≤0.001). Week of pregnancy, month of lactation as well as smoking were negatively associated with the omega-3 index.

Conclusion: Comprehensive data on the long-term LC n-3 PUFA status of German women during pregnancy and lactation are presented. To evaluate an optimal maternal omega-3 index in view of the fetal and infant development further studies are needed.

Keywords: DHA; Germany; LC n-3 PUFA; Lactation; Omega-3 index; Pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / blood*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / blood*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / analysis*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Lactation / blood*
  • Pregnancy
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid