Data from the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood 2010 (COPSAC2010) cohort indicated that the risk of persistent wheeze or asthma was about 7% lower in children of mothers who received fish oil supplements during the third trimester, compared with those who received olive oil (control).
In addition, omega-3 supplementation was associated with a significant reduction in the risk of infections of the lower respiratory tract, report researchers from the University of Copenhagen, the Technical University of Denmark, the University of Waterloo (Canada), and Harvard School of Public Health (US).
“We've long suspected there was a link between the anti-inflammatory properties of long-chain omega-3 fats, the low intakes of omega-3 in Western diets and the rising rates of childhood asthma,” said Professor Hans Bisgaard of COPSAC at the Copenhagen University Hospital and lead author of the paper. “This study proves that they are definitively and significantly related.”
"Nothing short of impressive"
Commenting independently on the study's findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: "Results from the present research are nothing short of impressive, particularly in the offspring of mothers that had the lowest EPA/DHA levels before supplementation.
"These results add to the totality of scientific evidence, including, but not limited to the benefits associated with reducing the risk of early pre-term birth and improving child neurodevelopment, which underscores the importance of EPA and DHA during pregnancy. It's clear that pregnant women need to be encouraged to increase their intake of fatty fish and omega-3 rich supplements."
Prof Bisgaard and his co-workers recruited 736 pregnant women at 24 weeks of gestation and randomly assigned them to receive 2.4 grams per day of omega-3-rich fish oil or olive oil until one week after delivery. The children were then monitored for five years.
Data from 695 children indicated that there was a 7% reduction in the risk of persistent wheeze or asthma in the omega-3 group, compared to the control group (17% versus 24%, respectively). This corresponded to a relative reduction of 31%, said the researchers.
An even stronger protective effect was observed in children of women with the lowest average blood levels of EPA and DHA, with a 16% lower risk versus the control group. This corresponded to a relative reduction of 54%, said the researchers.
In addition, fish oil supplementation was associated with a 7% reduced risk of infections of the lower respiratory tract, compared to the control group.
“The proportion of women with low EPA and DHA in their blood is even higher in Canada and the United States as compared with Denmark, so we would expect an even greater reduction in risk among North American populations,” said Prof Ken Stark, Canada Research Chair in Nutritional Lipidomics and professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo.
“Identifying these women and providing them with supplements should be considered a front-line defense to reduce and prevent childhood asthma.”
Source: New England Journal of Medicine
2016; Volume 375, Pages 2530-2539, doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1503734
“Fish Oil–Derived Fatty Acids in Pregnancy and Wheeze and Asthma in Offspring”
Authors: H. Bisgaard et al.