ACOG and APA recommend omega-3s for fetal brain development and heart health. It can be confusing when the terms omega, DHA, and fish oil are used interchangeably, and there are a few important differences to recognize.

 

By Dr. Kenosha Gleaton

You’ve probably heard about fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids. Maybe you’re even familiar with the term DHA. But as often as these terms are used interchangeably, there are some key differences of which you should be aware. Are fish oil and omega-3 supplements the same? How does DHA factor in? We’re here to break down exactly what these nutrients are, why they’re important, and how they relate to one another.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 acids mainly refer to alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are health-essential fatty acids that our body cannot make enough of, so they must be consumed in our diet or through supplements. Omega-3s can be found in flaxseed, seafood, and fish oil, but there are also many great supplements available to ensure you’re getting enough omega. Omega-3 makes up many membranes surrounding our body’s cells, specifically the eye, brain, and sperm cells, and is necessary for heart and brain health.

DHA

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a type of essential omega-3 fatty acid aiding in the growth and development of the infant brain as well as normal functioning of the adult brain. DHA is also a key component of the eyes and heart. ACOG recommends pregnant women take in about 200-300 mg of DHA daily for improved pregnancy outcomes. Natalist’s Omega DHA contains 450mg of DHA and 150mg of EPA, supporting a healthy pregnancy and encouraging early milestones. 

Fish oil

Fish oil is found in fish such as salmon, trout, tuna, and sardines. Intake of fish oil has been linked to improved health outcomes such as better heart health and a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. Fish oil contains two of the major omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, as well as vitamins A and D.

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So, how are these all related?

Omega-3 fatty acids include three different types: EPA, ALA, and DHA. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids types DHA and EPA—in addition to many other essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals the body needs for adult and fetal growth and development. ALA is the only omega-3 that cannot be found in fish oil (but it can be found in nuts and seeds).

Omega-3s and pregnancy

Omega-3s are essential for the healthy development of the brain and eyes in pregnant women as well as for fetal growth and development. DHA intake specifically is linked to healthy birth weight as well as cognitive and motor developmental milestones. EPA is correlated with improved heart health and cholesterol.  
With thousands of supplements on the market, many of which contain the same ingredients, it can be difficult to know what's most important for you and your baby. Omega-3s are an essential part of a healthy diet and promote adequate fetal development. To ensure your little one has everything necessary to thrive and grow, commit to taking a prenatal supplement that contains the proper nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy.