Can Diabetes Be Prevented Even Before Birth? Studies Say It’s Possible

Dr. Sears Blog: Can Diabetes Be Prevented Even Before Birth?

More than a decade ago, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control estimated that the lifetime risk of developing diabetes for children born after 2000 was one in three. For Hispanics the odds of a child becoming diabetic increased to almost one in two. Furthermore, the authors estimated that if people developed diabetes by the age of 40 they would lose between 12 and 14 years of their potential lifespans and between 19 and 22 years of their quality of life.

This is not a very pleasant future for the U.S., since it is the country that spends the greatest amount of money in the world on health care.

This study was followed by another article in New England Journal of Medicine warning about the potential decline in life expectancy in the United States primarily due to increasing obesity.

Ten years after the publications of these articles obesity still has not been abated and diabetes continues to accelerate with a corresponding increase in television advertising of the newest diabetic drugs.

Obviously prevention programs and new treatments aren’t working to eliminate diabetes, so maybe we have to start preventing it before children are even born. This is the focus of a recent textbook called, Metabolic Syndrome and the Complications of Pregnancy of which I was one of the co-editors.

If Mom has inflammation during pregnancy, so does baby

This textbook focused on the concept of fetal programming occurring in the womb that can lead to the accelerated development of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and eventually diabetes later in life. The driver for this negative fetal programming appears to be increased inflammation in the fetus.

Metabolic changes that will likely shorten a person’s life span are the result of the increased inflammation in the womb. Therefore, the best way to generate a better metabolic future for the child is to reduce its exposure to its mother’s diet-induced inflammation during pregnancy.

In the chapters that I wrote for the textbook, I described all the benefits of expectant mothers following an anti-inflammatory diet such as the Zone Diet to prevent such epigenetic changes that lead to increased inflammation in the fetus.

Since more than 40% of women in the United States who become pregnant are either overweight or obese, this means they are likely to also be inflamed. It would be difficult for these women to change their dietary habits quickly. But what if they could take a daily pill during pregnancy that would significantly decrease the likelihood that their unborn children would become obese or diabetic later in life?

What if this pill even had the potential to make babies smarter by decreasing the inflammation they are being exposed to in the womb?

Fish oil’s effect on fetal inflammation

This pill doesn’t contain a drug; rather it is fish oil. Two papers published the results of a study in which overweight or obese pregnant women were given 2 grams of supplemental EPA and DHA per day starting on week 14 of their pregnancies and continuing until the end of their pregnancies approximately 25 weeks later.

Those who got the fish oil had less inflammation as indicated by a reduction of the levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) and gave birth to infants who were longer compared to babies of the mothers taking the placebo capsules. Based on the information described in my textbook, this reduction of inflammation in the womb should reduce metabolic problems as the child matures.

The real life results

These results only confirm what I have recommended for years; that omega-3 fatty acids may be the most important nutrients that any pregnant woman can possibly take. That’s why I take great pride that my first grandson was not only a Zone Diet child, but was also getting his daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids (about 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA) every day in the womb because of his mother’s supplementation with OmegaRx®.

I make that dietary recommendation to pregnant women only if the fish oil is ultra-refined and very low in PCBs. In fact, the fish oil used in the above studies is the crude starting material that we use for the production of OmegaRx. In terms of purity, OmegaRx remains the standard by which all other fish oil products are compared. And of course, it is the only one I would ever recommend for my family.

Although my grandson Lukas may only represent a data point of one, he is taller, leaner, and of course wicked smart compared to other kids in his various playgroups. Call me crazy, but I think the combination of the Zone Diet and OmegaRx may have helped.


  1. Naravan KM, Boyle JP, Thompson TJ, Sorensen SW, and Willson DF. “Lifetime risk for diabetes mellitus in the United States.” JAMA 290: 1884-1890 (2003).
  2. Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, Layden J, Carnes BA, Brody J, Hayflick L, Bulter RN, Allison DB, and Ludwig DS. “A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century.” N Eng J Med 352: 1138-1145 (2005).
  3. Ferrazzi E and Sears B (eds). Metabolic Syndrome and the Complications of Pregnancy. Springer. Switzerland (2015).
  4. Fisher SC, Kim SY, Sharma AJ, Rochat R, and Morrow B. “Is obesity still increasing among pregnant women?” Prev Med 56:372-378 (2013).
  5. Haghiac M, Yan X, Presley L, Smith S, Dettelback S, Minium J, Belury MA, Catalano PM, and Haugel-de Mouszon S. “Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduces inflammation in obese pregnant women.” PLoS One 10:e0137309 (2015).
  6. Calabui-Narvaro V, Puchowicz M, Glazebrook P, Haghiac M, Minium J, Catalano P, Haugel-de Mouszon S, and O’Tierney-Ginn P. “Effect of omega-3 supplementation on placental lipid metabolism in overweight and obese women.” Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.124651 (2016).

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About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 45 years to the study of lipids. He has published 40 scientific articles and holds 14 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 14 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller "The Zone". His books have sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.


  1. Arlette

    How long should one use the 2.4 gm of EPA and DHA prior to becoming pregnant for the best benefits? Is 6-weeks enough and then continue to use this same amount through pregnancy and postpartum? Also, can I use the Maqui Berri RX prior to pregnancy, preg, and post partum? I’ve used both and really liked them, but have been off fish oil for the past 2 months and Maqui Berri about 6 months.

    • Dr. Sears

      Blood levels of EPA and DHA reach equilibrium after 4 weeks, so 6 weeks is plenty of time. I would continue taking that level through pregnancy and then probably double it if you are breast feeding to maintain adequate levels in your breast milk as well as replenish your own internal levels. The MaquiRx would be recommended for helping to reduce blood sugar problems and oxidative stress that occurs during pregnancy.

  2. dr jacob thomas

    is there any ethnic differences in your recomendations? i am from India and Indians have a very high rate of diabetes and metabolic syndromes . what specific recomendations would you give asians ?

    • Dr. Sears

      After reading the ad copy, I would urge you to save your money. If you are concerned about diabetes, following a strict Zone Diet supplemented by omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols will be your best approach.

  3. Sharon

    Wish I had read this article while I was still pregnant. Now that I am breatfeeding my newborn (3 months old), will she benefit from me taking fish oil capsules now? If so, how much do you recommend?

    • Dr. Sears

      Most definitely, since the brain is the most rapidly growing organ in child during the first two years of life. I would recommend taking at least 2.4 grams of EPA and DHA per day to increase the levels in the breast milk and to replace the EPA and DHA taken from your reserves during pregnancy.

  4. Jennifer

    17 years ago, I found I was expecting my 4th child. I was 30 and thought I was finished with child bering. I feared the thought of the 4th child not being as intelligent as the first and prayed for an answer. I had a clear impression to be very diligent in taking fish oil throughout the pregnancy, nursing and continue supplementing through 4 years old while the brain was most actively developed. Today he is top in most any class he takes, he is obedient, has a great body build, is quick and witty, very caring and his siblings swear he is more intelligent than they all combined! I’m a huge fan of the Zone and fish oil!

  5. Virginia C.Upton

    Dr. Michael Gregor in his and videos advises against the use of fish oil and mentions PCBs. He recommends substituting plant-based omega 3s.
    You mention your fish out is very low in PCBs. How low?

    Is there any level of PCBs that is acceptable?
    Thank you.
    Virginia Upton

    • Mario

      First, let me suggest you to change your doctor since he`s obviously not informed that there is highly purified Omega on the market for the last 20 years. You have left such an ignorant comment on the web site of the purification`s leader, pioneer and the most prominent scientist in the world in this area, that no one from his team decided to dedicate you one sentence in order to reply you (and help you).
      Educate yourself before you embarrace with such a stupid and incorrect statement.
      And for God`s sake, buy yourself a book, it`s been on the market for 20 years.

      • acmiler

        Hi Mario,

        Please lighten up. Putting someone else down when they are seeking knowledge is counterproductive and rude. We are all here to learn and that happens best in an open, welcoming environment.

        Thank you.

      • Mary Seltzer

        Shame on you, Mario. Is it necessary to be rude? The woman asked a question and should be answered with respect not ridicule. How else can you educate people? Certainly not by calling them names.

    • Dr. Sears

      We post the levels of PCBs on our website for every lot we manufacture. No other company (including drug companies) provide that level of transparency to the consumer because of the expense. The average level of PCBs in our last 12 lots has averaged 1.0 ppb. The purity standard used in the fish oil industry is 90 ppb. If you go to our fish oil calculator in the resources section of you can type in any comparative product to OmegaRx and place in the appropriate lot number for comparison in both price and purity to get 2.4 grams of EPA and DHA which is the minimum that I recommend on a daily basis. Relative to plant based sources, they contain only short-chain omega-3 fatty acids that have no anti-inflammatory properties until they are elongated to EPA and DHA. This is a slow and inefficient process so that to obtain the same anti-inflammatory benefits of EPA and DHA you will need to consume 50-100 times the volume of a plant-based omega-3 source compared to OmegaRx.


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