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Preterm Births? Diet Not the Only Answer

Hearing from an expert on nutrition from DSM Nutritional Products on prevention of preterm births.

by Taichi Inui

Adequate nutrients should come from a variety of food sources, but it is unlikely that pregnant women consume recommended levels of essential nutrients through diet alone. There is evidence that sufficient intake of vitamins, minerals and omega-3 DHA can have a positive impact on maternal health in the prevention of preterm birth, low birthweight, gestational diabetes and also on the long-term health of the baby.1

Every year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation), and we see this number on a steady rise. Globally, prematurity is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five years. Asia far outnumbers any other continent in terms of total number of preterm births with countries like India, China, Indonesia and Philippines making the list of top 10 countries. Even in developed nations with top-notch medical care, we see preterm birth rates continue to rise worldwide. In Singapore, statistics show that one out of 11 babies are born prematurely.

An updated Cochrane systematic healthcare review shows the importance of Omega-3 long chain fatty acid intake during singleton pregnancy and the direct impact it has on reducing the risk of having a preterm baby. With gestational age at delivery being the single most important determinant in survival and long-term neurodevelopment, it is essential for mothers and mothers-to-be to be aware of the effect of nutritional interventions that can reduce such risks.

The systematic review showed high-quality evidence that supplementation with omega-3 long-chain fatty acids including a substantial amount of DHA during pregnancy can lower the risk of having a preterm baby before 37 weeks by 11 percent and lowers the risk of having an early preterm baby before 34 weeks by 42 percent.

In addition, sufficient intake of Omega-3 long chain fatty acids during pregnancy have been associated with improved perinatal outcomes important for foetal development of the brain, nervous system and retina.

A healthy and varied diet that contains adequate amounts of important nutrients is essential for optimum foetal growth and development for the long-term health of infants and babies. Dietary sources of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) exist in forms like breastmilk, cold water fatty fish and nutrition supplements. In Asia, our diets tend to be income dependent, with regional preferences and varying levels of accessibility for nutritious foods.

The implications for our future generation are significant – differences and increased risk factors for chronic diseases, and other conditions affecting immune function, bone health, cognitive function, neuro-motor and behavioural outcomes have all been seen in children. The potential need for improving the health of future generations is tremendous.

Asia encompasses a diverse range of geography and ethnic groups, as well as varying levels of economic development and urbanization. Understanding the current nutrition situation and the potential causes of malnutrition in different countries across the region is crucial for supporting country-specific and country-led programs and policies to effectively address the underlying problems.

The holistic approach of adopting a healthy lifestyle, diversified diet and nutritional enrichment through supplementations cannot be reiterated enough. It is crucial for various sectors to understand how to best tailor public health messaging, and effectively create mass awareness where the extension of research evidence is able to reach a wider audience. [APBN]

About the Author

Taichi InuiNutritional Science & Advocacy Manager, Asia Pacific, DSM Nutritional Products