Prenatal Fish Oil Supplementation May Lower Risk of Asthma in Children
Will taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy lower the risk of asthma in children? It just may according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study shows that supplementation with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) during the third trimester can reduce the risk of asthma or persistent wheeze in the babies. LCPUFA supplementation also reduces the risk of lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) in the offspring.
Asthma in Children is a Significant Problem
Asthma is a common problem in children born in the United States. Approximately 7.4 percent of adults and 8.6 percent of children in the nation have asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), and the number of children with the breathing disorder has been increasing since the 1980s.
Hospitalization rates for asthma are historically higher in the Northeast. Massachusetts has the highest prevalence rate for asthma at 12 percent, according to statistics presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with several other northeastern states following with asthma prevalence rates topping 10 percent.
Fish Oil-Derived LCPUFAs in Pregnancy and Asthma in Offspring
Reduced intake of LCPUFAs may contribute to the increased incidence of wheezing and asthma in children. The researchers in the NEJM study hoped to evaluate the effects of maternal LCPUFA supplementation on offspring.
The scientists enrolled 736 pregnant women at 24 weeks of gestation into the study then randomly assigned the subjects to control and test groups. Participants in the test group received 2.4 g of n−3 LCPUFA derived from fish oil each day, while those in the control group took a placebo containing olive oil daily.
The participants’ offspring became the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood (COPSAC) cohort. The researchers followed this group of children for several years, with pediatricians collecting clinical data for visits at 1 week after birth, and then at 1, 3, 6 months and every 6 months until the children reached 36 months of age. The pediatricians then saw the children yearly until the participants were 5 years old.
Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which group the children belonged to for the first three years of follow-up studies. During the next two years of follow-up studies, only the scientists were unaware of the group assignments.
The researchers looked primarily for persistent wheezing and asthma, but included LRTIs, eczema, asthma exacerbations, and allergic sensitization as secondary endpoints.
Ninety-five percent of the 695 children included in the COPSAC cohort completed the 3-year, double-blind follow-up portion of the study. The researchers found that the risk of asthma or persistent wheeze in the treatment group receiving LCPUFA was 16.9 percent, while the risk was 23.7 percent in the control group. This means consuming fish oil-derived LCPUFAs can lower the risk of persistent wheeze or asthma and LRTIs in offspring by nearly 7 percentage points, or one-third. Analysis of the secondary endpoints showed that supplementation reduces the risk of LRTIs, but there was no association between supplementation and asthma exacerbations, allergic sensitization, or eczema.
These findings would be extremely helpful for expectant mothers hoping to reduce the risk of asthma and other breathing problems in their children.
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Frank Magliochetti owes his professional success to his expertise in two areas: medicine and finance. After obtaining a BS in pharmacy from Northeastern University, he stayed on to enroll in the Masters of Toxicology program. He later specialized in corporate finance, receiving an MBA from The Sawyer School of Business at Suffolk University. His educational background includes completion of the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School and the General Management Program at Stanford Business School. Frank Magliochetti has held senior positions at Baxter International, Kontron Instruments, Haemonetics Corporation, and Sandoz. Since 2000, he has been a managing partner at Parcae Capital, where he focuses on financial restructuring and interim management services for companies in the healthcare, media, and alternative energy industries. Earlier this year, he was appointed chairman of the board at Grace Health Technology, a company providing an enterprise solution for the laboratory environment.