Several studies have shown that maternal stress puts unborn babies at increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders like schizophrenia and autism. Male fetuses are disproportionately vulnerable to the harmful effects of stress during pregnancy. Yet a new clinical trial has shown an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA (docosahexanoic acid) available in fish and other supplements shows promise in helping counteract the dangers of prenatal stress.
In the process of discovering this, the researchers also found some clues as to why unborn males are more at risk than females.
“We believe differences in metabolic requirements for male and female embryos as early as the first trimester, combined with dynamic differences in the way the male and female placenta reacts to environmental factors, contributes to the increased risk for male neurodevelopmental disorders later in life,” said David Beversdorf, MD, the senior author of the study.
When taken as a dietary supplement during pregnancy, DHA is said to aid the development of an in-utero baby’s brain, eyes, and nervous system. It may also help prevent premature birth, ensure proper birth weight, stabilize the mother’s mood post-partum, and improve the baby’s cognitive capacities.
DHA can be found naturally in foods including fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and anchovies, as well as in natural supplements in health food shops.