Are You Getting Enough Omega-3? Probably Not.
Written by Erin Feher
Photography by Photos Courtesy of Needed
When it comes to making sure that pregnant women and their developing babies are getting all the nutrients they need, the program has pretty much stayed the same for decades: Once the pregnancy test comes up positive, expecting mamas simply add a prenatal vitamin to their daily routine and trust that it’s providing all the essential vitamins and minerals needed to optimally build a new life. Unless something seems off, doctors rarely test to make sure an expecting mother’s nutrient levels are where they should be. But with increasing access to affordable at-home tests, many women are learning that, despite their healthy diets and trusted supplement routines, they are still deficient in a critical nutrient for fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum: Omega-3.
“Up to 95% of women—even those who are very health conscious—are deficient in Omega-3, a critical nutrient for before, during, and after pregnancy,” explains Julie Sawaya, co-founder of Needed, a new nutritional testing and supplement company working to provide optimal nourishment to women. “We simply aren’t getting enough of the nutrition we need through food alone, and it’s missing from most prenatal vitamins.” We turned to Julie and her co-founder Ryan Woodbury, two mamas-to-be, to find out more about this key nutrient, what the options are for testing and treating Omega-3 deficiencies, and why this especially matters for mamas and mamas-to-be (even if you’re already taking a prenatal vitamin!).
What exactly is Omega-3?
“Omega-3 is a critical fat for before, during, and after pregnancy. You cannot make Omega-3, and must obtain it from diet or supplementation. There are three main types of Omega-3: ALA, DHA, and EPA. ALA is found in plants like chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts, and it needs to be converted into the DHA and EPA forms of Omega-3 in order to be used by the body. This conversion process is highly inefficient (often less than 1%), so it is important for mom and baby to consume DHA and EPA directly. Fatty fish and supplements are the two reliable dietary sources of DHA and EPA. DHA is important because it’s used to build and maintain healthy function of cell membranes throughout the body, including those of the brain, eyes, ovaries, and skin. Meanwhile, EPA produces signaling molecules called eicosanoids, which play numerous physiological roles including supporting mood, hormone balance, and reducing inflammation. EPA also improves the transport of DHA across the placenta.”
How did you two get focused on Omega-3 specifically?
“Through performing nutrient testing on ourselves, we both realized we had serious nutrient deficiencies, including Omega-3. Food alone wasn’t meeting our needs, much to our surprise as nutrition nerds with holistic nutrition certifications who paid a ton of attention to our diets. Being familiar with reading scientific studies, we dug into the research and realized we were far from alone. Up to 95% of women are deficient in Omega-3. As a company, we are committed to proven science—so we put this stat to the test. We tested the Omega-3 (DHA+EPA) levels of approximately 250 health-conscious women of childbearing age. Among these nutritionally aware women, we found that 96% were not meeting their Omega-3 needs (Omega-3 index <8%), and 42% were critically low in Omega-3 (Omega-3 index <5%), meaning they would be at risk for not having enough for their baby (let alone for themselves!) if they were to get pregnant. At the same time, we had friends struggling with infertility, and others with pregnancy complications like preterm birth. We found that nutrition was almost never talked about as a tool to support better outcomes, despite clear clinical validation that it can be.”
Tell us a little about the Omega-3 supplement you created in response.
“We designed Needed’s Omega-3 supplement to be delivered in the most nourishing formulation, ensuring you and your baby get the optimal amount of Omega-3 DHA and EPA, along with a good source of Choline, another key nutrient that up to 95% of women are deficient in. Our Omega-3 is a powder, not a pill, which many mamas find easier to take. It’s five times better absorbed than standard fish oil pills, made from vegan and sustainably-sourced algae, and it’s free of toxins and heavy metals present in many fish oil–based alternatives. To create it, we partnered with the leading experts on liposomal delivery, as it’s our mission to bring the best of science and nature to women’s health. Liposomes are natural molecular structures found in breastmilk and salmon that optimally protect and deliver Omega-3. And, because quality matters so much when you are nourishing a baby, we go above and beyond what the FDA requires, testing and validating our products through our extensive community of integrative health practitioners, through clinical studies, and third-party labs.”
Why do women need Omega-3 before pregnancy?
“There are many benefits to optimizing your Omega-3 levels before conceiving a baby. To begin with, many women start out pregnancy deficient in Omega-3, and levels are often cut in half over the ensuing 9 months as baby’s nutritional needs are prioritized. Starting out with healthy levels ensures that baby and mama both get their needs met, minimizing the risk of postnatal depletion for mamas-to-be. Studies have shown Omega-3 also plays a key role in successfully conceiving a baby, including through balancing hormones, moderating inflammation, and improving egg health. Healthy Omega-3 levels have even been connected to prolonging the reproductive lifespan for women over the age of 35. Plus, it’s important for male fertility, too, with research demonstrating that Omega-3 supplementation can significantly improve sperm concentration and motility in men.”
If your prenatal vitamin says it contains Omega-3, is that enough?
“For most mamas and mamas-to-be, supplementation is needed because in pregnancy and while breastfeeding, the baby requires more Omega-3 per day than a woman consumes through diet, leaving the mother’s levels depleted. Most prenatal vitamins contain just enough nutrition to prevent birth defects and serious diseases—they are based on what is known as an RDA or Recommended Daily Allowance—but fall far short of providing women all that we need for optimal fertility, pregnancies, and postpartum recovery. The critical nutrients Omega-3, DHA, EPA, and Choline are lacking from most prenatal vitamins, and even when present, the dosages are generally too low to meet a mama’s needs. We recommend looking for an Omega-3 supplement with a balance of DHA (no less than the 300mg recommended by the American Pregnancy Association) and EPA.”
How is Needed’s at-home test different from getting a blood-draw test at a doctor’s office?
“We use a single drop of blood to measure the Omega-3 Index—a percentage measure of Omega-3s, DHA, and EPA in your blood. This eliminates the need to have your blood drawn at a clinic. You can collect your sample and send it through the mail from the comfort of your own home. And, it is highly accurate. Our testing partner, OmegaQuant, has led research on Omega-3 intake for 30 years, and has over 80 published research papers in this field.”
If the test shows a deficiency, how long will it take to boost Omega-3 levels?
“We suggest supplementing with a quality Omega-3 supplement like ours right away. You may feel a difference within a couple of weeks or it can take a number of months. While DHA and EPA intake is the primary driver of your Omega-3 index, your genes, overall health, and lifestyle can affect the Omega-3 index response to dietary changes. For example, if you are breastfeeding or pregnant, it may take longer to improve your levels, as you are still giving so much Omega-3 to the baby. If your Omega-3 index level is below 5%, we suggest doubling-up on your dosage by taking two packets of Needed’s Omega-3 per day for a period of several months. It is ideal to re-test your levels after three-to-six months of continuous, daily supplementation when your starting levels are sub-optimal.”
What’s the cost of at-home test and Omega-3 supplements?
“Needed’s Omega-3 at-home nutrient test is $50.00 or free with the start of an Omega-3 supplement subscription. Thirty daily packets of Needed’s Omega-3 supplement is $49.99 per month with a recurring monthly subscription or $59.99 as a one-time purchase.”
Want to try out Needed’s Omega-3 supplement for yourself? Head over to thisisneeded.com to get started. Save 10% on your first order with code MOTHER.
This post is brought to you by Mother + Needed.
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