Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may play an important role in lengthening the reproductive lifespan. These fatty acids are also essential for supporting healthy baby development.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a wide range of functions within mammals. They are involved in metabolism, immune maintenance, brain function, fertility and other key systems. Indeed, these fatty acids have both preconception benefits and support healthy pregnancies.
Omega-3 fatty acids may increase reproductive lifespan
In 2013, Nehea and colleagues published a paper investigating omega-3 fatty acids and their impact on reproduction in rats1. Researchers wanted to evaluate the effects of an omega-3 rich diet on rat egg quality and reproductive function. They also wanted to establish if an omega-3 rich diet was safe for long-term consumption.
Female rats of mature reproductive age consumed either a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a diet rich in omega-6 fatty acids, or a control diet. The control diet was deficient in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The rats were also bred to determine their respective reproductive potential. Subsequent generations of female rats also maintained the same diet as their parents and continued with the breeding trial following the same parameters.
The study found that
- Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids enhanced oocyte (the immature ovum, or egg cell) quality.
- Supplementation with omega-6 fatty acids decreased oocyte quality.
- Reproductive function was extended in rats receiving a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Reproductive function decreased in rats receiving a diet rich in omega-6 fatty acids.
- A rich omega-3 fatty acid diet was safe for long-term consumption over multiple generations.
This research provides evidence that omega-3 supports healthy reproductive function. These essential fatty acids can extend female reproductive lifespan in rats without adverse side effects. A diet rich in omega-6 fatty acids can reduce reproductive health. More research is necessary to establish if an omega-3 rich diet can prolong reproductive lifespan in female humans.
IVF treatments may benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation
Another scientific study from 2011 investigated the effects of dietary intakes of omega-3 fatty acids on fertility outcomes of IVF and ICIS treatments2. A total of 235 women undergoing ICSI/IVF treatments participated in the study. In the four weeks leading up to fertility treatments, nutritional information was gathered. Total omega-3 and omega-6 intake was calculated for each participant.
The study found that
- High intakes of omega-3 fatty acids increased baseline estradiol (E2) levels. Estrodiol is vital for the development and maintenance of reproductive tissues in women.
- Embryo morphology is improved with a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
This research has highlighted a positive correlation between fertility, embryo development and omega-3 fatty acids. Following these findings, Hammiche and colleagues recommend that women undergoing IVF/ICSI treatments increase their dietary intake of omega-3 to improve fertility and embryo growth.
Omega -3 fatty acids and foetal development
A developing foetus requires high levels of fatty acids to support growth3. In recent animal studies, researchers investigated the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on foetal and placental growth within rats. Jones and colleagues wanted to ascertain if omga-3 fatty acids could reduce placental oxidative stress4. Rat either received an omega-3 rich diet or a standard omega-3 diet supplement from day one of pregnancy. Tissue samples were collected when the rats were almost full-term.
The study found that
- Rats receiving omega-3 supplements increased placental (12%) and foetal (6%) growth.
- Oxidative damage markers, i.e. oxidative stress caused by free radicals declined in rats receiving omega-3 supplements.
This study suggests that increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake during pregnancy may help to support healthy birth weights and protect against oxidative stress. Although these findings relate to rats, they’re likely to also be reflected in humans. More human-based studies are required to confirm these results.
Omega-3 fatty acid rich foods
Good sources of omega-3 include walnuts, soybeans, flax seeds, tofu, shrimp, sardines, salmon, squash, cauliflower, and bussel sprouts.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a whole range of functions within the body. There is growing scientific evidence that these fatty acids may help to improve reproductive health and increase the reproductive lifespan. Omega-3 also supports the healthy development of the embryo and foetus. The antioxidant properties of these fatty acids reduces oxidative stress within the placenta, protecting the developing foetus. Omega-3 fatty acid intake should be increased prior to conception and throughout pregnancy and breast feeding.
Fertility-enhancing fertility nutrients
- “Nehea, D. et.al. (2013). Prolonging the female reproductive lifespan and improving egg quality with dietary omega-3 fatty acids. Aging Cell, Volume 11, Issue 6, (pp. 1046-54).” ↩
- “Hammiche, F. et.al. (2011). Increased preconception omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake improves embryo morphology. Fertility and Sterility, Volume 95, Issue 5, (pp. 1820-3).” ↩
- “Jones, M., Mark, P., and Waddel, B. (2014). Maternal dietary omega-3 fatty acids and placental function. Reproduction, Volume 147, Issue 5.” ↩
- Jones, M. et.al (2013). Maternal dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduces placental oxidative stress and increases fetal and placental growth in the rat. Biology of Reproduction, Volume 88, Issue 2, (pp 37).” ↩