While doctors have known about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for a while, new research carried out by the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood (COPSAC) research center in Denmark, in collaboration with the University of Waterloo, Canada suggests that supplements made from the unsaturated fat may have an additional benefit: they may lower the risk of childhood asthma.1
Their results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
(If you are a vegan or plant-based, you can also find Omega-3 supplements created from the stuff the fish are eating, algae.)
The CDC estimates that 6.3 million kids in the U.S., under the age of 18 (that’s 8.6 percent of all U.S. children), currently have asthma. And the prevalence of asthma has increased over the last decade. In fact, it’s currently at its highest level.
Why Omega-3 fatty acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the two major classes of polyunsaturated fat and can be found in foods like flaxseed, fish, and dietary supplements like fish oil. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids – when consumed directly from food – have a variety of health benefits like reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, a reduced risk of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia and in pregnant women, a weekly consumption of at least 8 ounces of seafood also seems to improve health outcomes in their infants.
Armed with this information, the authors of the study “hypothesized a link between the rising numbers of children affected by asthma in Western countries and the low levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 in their diet.”2
Led by Prof. Ken Stark, the team,
“…selected 736 pregnant women who were 24 weeks into the gestation period. They randomly administered some of the women a daily dose of 2.4 grams of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) in the form of fish oil. The control group received a daily dose of olive oil as a placebo.
The LCPUFAs included eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These can be found in coldwater fish and are crucial for regulating the human body’s immune response.
The researchers used rapid analytical techniques to measure EPA and DHA levels in the blood of pregnant women.”3
Researchers followed the children for 5 years and monitored their health “for asthma and persistent wheeze, as well as respiratory tract infections, asthma complications, eczema, and sensitization to allergens,”4and found that:5
- pregnant women who took the daily dose of LCPUFA during the third trimester reduced their children’s risk of developing asthma or persistent wheeze by almost 31 percent
- the treatment group had a 16.9 percent risk of persistent wheeze or asthma, compared with 23.7 percent in the control group (this corresponds to a relative risk decrease of 30.7 percent)
- blood tests also revealed that the supplements,reduced the risk of asthma in their children by 54 percent, most benefited the women who had low levels of EPA and DHA at the beginning of the study
- the n-3 LCPUFA supplements were also associated with a decreased risk of lower respiratory tract infections, but they did not seem to have any effect on asthma exacerbation, eczema, or allergic sensitization
Given that the proportion of women with low EPA and DHA in their blood is higher in Canada and the United States than Denmark, Professor Stark and his team “expect an even greater reduction in risk among North American populations.”
And if this is the case, supplements should be considered a front-line of defense to reduce and prevent childhood asthma.
However, before you head off to the store and buy a bottle of supplements, remember that thanks to the vast amount of pollution in our oceans, fish aren’t just full of Omega-3’s anymore but also harmful PCB’s. You can, however, find Omega-3 supplements created from the stuff the fish are eating, algae. Just make sure to chat with your doctor first.