New CU Research Into Omega-3 Effects on Fertility Yields Mixed Results

One University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine study finds omega-3 fatty acids may help reverse ovarian damage from high-fat diets, while a second related study discovers no difference.

DENVER, October 9, 2018 – Two studies by the University of Colorado (CU) School of Medicine have produced a glimmer of hope but also conflicting evidence that omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in nutritional supplements and edible fish might boost female fertility in ways previously undiscovered.

Doctors from the school’s department of obstetrics and gynecology are presenting the research results this week at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Denver, which has drawn attendees from 91 countries.

In half of the pair of studies, CU researchers investigated whether feeding mice higher levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – one of the two major types of omega-3 fatty acids with a range of health benefits – could heal ovaries damaged by diets high in saturated fats.

Specifically, the research team discovered that DHA restored some though not all of several varieties of diminished gene expression in ovaries. Gene expression is a process by which genes code proteins playing critical roles in bodily functions.

In this case, researchers focused on expression of genes important in ovarian function. However, their discovery was that the omega-3 restored some gene expression affected by high saturated fats in diet but not all.

The findings present a somewhat promising but unclear picture for human fertility, said Dr. Malgorzata Skaznik-Wikiel, who oversaw the research and is a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at University’s Advanced Reproductive Medicine (ARM).

“There is some chance that increased omega-3s may have a positive effect on fertility in women eating high-fat diets, although it is too early to tell,” she said, calling for further research. “What we saw was reversal to baseline gene expression but not for all genes.”

Without additional studies, Dr. Skaznik-Wikiel said, “I don’t recommend women on high-fat diets increase omega-3s alone without concurrent change in diet. Avoiding diets high in saturated fats – especially animal fats – is far more likely to improve fertility.”

Less encouraging was the result of the companion DHA study that focused on the effects of omega-3 supplementation on cycle regulation in mice consuming a diet rich in saturated fats. In that investigation, doctors discovered that boosting DHA intake in mice on high-fat diets offered no benefits to regulating estrous cycles, a mammalian process akin to the human menstrual cycle. Only lowering saturated fat resulted in regulation of the cycle.

Nonetheless, prior ARM research has shown more persuasive evidence that omega-3s can benefit fertility in other ways.

A 2017 study found that omega-3 supplementation increased progesterone, an important reproductive hormone in women that rises in response to ovulation. 2016 ARM investigation found that genetically modified mice naturally producing higher levels of omega-3s exhibited higher egg reserve.

Dietary effects on fertility have been a focus of research in recent years at ARM, which treats infertile men and women from across Colorado as well as from other states and around the world. In addition to Dr. Skaznik-Wikiel, researchers on the latest nutritional study included Natalie M. Hohos, Ph.D. and Kirstin Cho, BS.

About University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine

University of Colorado Advanced Reproductive Medicine specializes in the evaluation and treatment of infertility and reproductive disorders. The clinic is located at 3055 Roslyn St., Room 230, Denver, Colorado, with surgery and lab facilities at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. A Colorado Springs office is located at 4125 Briargate Parkway, #350. For more information, see arm.coloradowomenshealth.com.