Taking Fish oil during pregnancy may prevent asthma occurrence in your child

Posted By Braverman IVF & Reproductive Immunology || 9-Feb-2017

The rate of asthma keep rising worldwide affecting up to 300 million people (1).
In the USA, 25 million of people are affected by the condition with an increased prevalence in children that reaches 10% (2).
It is of prime importance to find some strategies to prevent asthma occurrence in young children.

A recent Danish study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that Fish oil consumption during pregnancy may significantly decrease the risk of persistent wheezing and asthma in the children by the age of 3.
In this large randomized, double-blinded study, 736 pregnant women between 22-26 weeks of gestation were assigned to either:

  • 2.4g of fish oil (omega 3 given in the form of EPA and DHA).
  • 2.4g of olive oil (containing omega 9 and omega 6).

The supplementation was taken daily and until 1 week after the delivery.
A total of 695 children were followed up until 5 years old.
Interestingly, children whose mother took fish oil during the last trimester of pregnancy were less likely to develop asthma or wheezing (16.9%) as compared to children whose mothers were on olive oil intake (23.7%).
This difference of 7% corresponds to a relative risk reduction of about 31% over a 3-year period.
The study also showed that the difference in asthma occurrence is accentuated in women with initially low EPA and DHA levels (before any omega 3 intake).
Indeed, if we only consider women deficient for omega 3 (low EPA and DHA levels), only 17.5% of children whose mother were supplemented with fish oil, developed asthma when compared to 34.1% of children whose mothers were on olive oil.
Interestingly, genotype studies have shown an association between low levels of EPA and DHA and a maternal variation in the genes encoding the fatty acid desaturase (FADS), an enzyme involved in the fatty acid metabolism leading to EPA and DHA synthesis. The minor allele (G) was associated with lower levels of EPA and DHA before the omega 3 intervention.
Lastly, the benefit of omega 3 supplementations was also seen in children of mother on fish oil who have a reduced risk of developing lower respiratory tract infection (-7%).

Other work has shown the benefit of omega 3 supplementations on children at high risk for developing asthma and wheezing (3). The study included 376 children who were placed on a daily intake of 500 mg of Fish oil from birth until 18 months (either by the breastfeeding mother or directly added to the infant formula) and showed that at 18 months, children with higher blood levels of omega 3 were less likely to use a bronchodilator or experience wheezing, coughing as compared to children in the control group (no dietary intervention).
Nevertheless, the prevalence for asthma was similar among the two groups.
Although beneficial, the intervention was only able to minimize symptoms associated with asthma without lowering its incidence. This result was also confirmed in another large study (4).

This highlights the fact that asthma may have been already established at birth (although the symptoms may not be present at the time) and the timing of intervention was too late to prevent its occurrence.

Altogether, these studies showed the key role of a balanced diet during pregnancy and the early life of an infant, with sufficient levels of omega 3 to support fetal and child’s health. This study confirms that no obstetrical risks were associated with omega 3 supplement during pregnancy.

We are now, at Braverman Reproductive Immunology, systematically screening all our patients for their fatty acid profile to detect women with insufficient EPA and DHA levels and recommend supplementation accordingly to restore adequate omega 3 levels that play a crucial role in minimizing your inflammation and support your child’s development during pregnancy.


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