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Study: Fish oil in pregnancy reduced asthma risks in newborns


Doctors are studying the health effects of fish oil capsules
Most parents just try everything to strengthen their newborn's health. This can sometimes have slightly bizarre effects. Researchers have now found that maternal consumption of fish oil within the last three months of pregnancy reduces the risk of asthma or persistent wheezing in the offspring.

The University of Copenhagen scientists found that taking fish oil supplements in the last three months of pregnancy improved protection against asthma for the newborn. The doctors published the results of their study in The New England Journal of Medicine.

For the study, doctors examine 695 pregnant women
The current study examined 695 pregnant women. The experts tried to find out whether adding fish oil to the diet could reduce the risk of asthma in newborns.

Effects of taking fish oil capsules
In total, the expectant mothers in the placebo group had a risk of about 23.7 percent that their children would suffer from asthma. However, if the pregnant women ate fish oil capsules daily, the risk dropped to 16.9 percent. That is a reduction of 30.7 percent in the first three years of life, the experts explain.

Children of women with low EPA and DHA levels seem to have the greatest benefit
The real benefit seemed to be only in the children, whose mothers ingested low concentrations of the two main components of fish oil, the experts say. These were eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Among Danish women with low EPA and DHA levels, the rate of asthma and wheezing in children reached 17.5 percent.

The asthma rate has more than doubled in recent decades
One in five young children today have asthma and wheezing, with the rate in western countries more than doubling in recent decades, the doctors say. Previous studies have already shown that these conditions are more common in babies when their mothers have low concentrations of the above values, the scientists add. The new large-scale study is the first to analyze whether an increased intake of fish oil can actually lower the risk.

Consuming fish can also lead to the same benefits
Alternatively, women can simply eat fish to get the same benefits as fish oil supplements, the researchers report. However, you have to be very fond of eating fish to get the same benefit from your diet, says lead author Dr. Hans Bisgaard from the University of Copenhagen. The results now need to be tested in other parts of the world where overall fish consumption is lower, the expert adds.

Side effects urgently need to be tested
The 2.4 gram dose administered was about 15 to 20 times the average US food intake, doctors say. Before these findings can be applied to clinical practice, it is therefore imperative to ensure that this high dose has no adverse effects on behavior, cognition or other long-term results, emphasizes Dr. Bisgaard.

Further research should review the effects of lower doses
Future research should clarify whether lower doses are similarly effective and whether these results can be replicated in other populations. It is possible that a lower dose would also have been sufficient to achieve the effect, the authors explain.

Fish oil supplement also lowers the risk of lower respiratory tract infections
The fish oil supplement also lowered the risk of lower respiratory tract infections, reducing the rate from 39.1 percent in subjects with olive oil placebo to 31.7 percent in subjects with fish oil intake. However, the supplements do not appear to affect the risk that babies or toddlers develop eczema on the skin or an allergic reaction to milk or products with eggs that can affect a severe asthma attack, the experts explain.

How long did the expectant mothers take fish oil capsules?
During the study, women started taking fish oil or olive oil placebo capsules in the 24th week of pregnancy. They continued the admission until a week after the birth.

More research is needed
The scientists calculated that 14.6 women would need to be treated to prevent a case of asthma or persistent wheezing. Among women with the lowest EPA and DHA levels at the beginning, only 5.6 women would have to be treated, the authors say. If the results are confirmed in other populations, doctors could test which newborns benefit most from fish oil supplementation. Unfortunately, the health care system is not yet focused on this research, says author Dr. Bisgaard. (as)

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