Maternal Fish Consumption and Prevention of Low Birth Weight in the Developing World
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Low birth weight (LBW) is characterized by less than 2,500 g of body weight at birth. It represents about 15.5 % of total births worldwide and is a major cause of neonatal death. Most notably, 95.6 % of all LBW infants are born in the developing countries. It is primarily resulted from either preterm birth (before 37 weeks of gestation) or intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). Infants with LBW are about 20 times at higher risk of neonatal mortality and are believed to be more susceptible to cardiovascular complications, inhibition of growth and cognitive development and chronic diseases later in life. Despite its high incidence worldwide and clinical implications, there is still no clear understanding of its causes and consequently, no specific treatments exist. Maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy plays a major role in determining the pregnancy outcome and health of the new born. Fish is a cheap source of quality animal proteins and micronutrients, and fish oil is rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), EPA and DHA. Although the beneficial effects of fish oil on human health is known since 1930s, its protective effects against various pregnancy complications, including IUGR and LBW, have been increasingly recognized during the last two decades. Despite the poor outcome of clinical trials on therapeutic use of fish oil for various pregnancy complications in Western countries, our preliminary epidemiological findings, and numerous observational and experimental studies in developing countries highlight the beneficial effects of fish consumption on pregnancy outcome, particularly in reducing the incidence of LBW. The present paper summarizes various evidences on effects of maternal fish consumption on birth weight, growth and development of infants and young children in the developing world, and emphasizes future research for better understanding of the effects of maternal fish consumption on pregnancy outcome in low socioeconomic settings.