Infant Asthma Benefits from Fish Oil During Pregnancy

Fishpregnant Oil Study Confirms Positive Health Benefits for Children by Reduction in Asthma Risk

By Joseph Maroon, MD

For decades, the use of dietary supplements has been physician-recommended to pregnant women as a way to supplement the nutritional demands of their growing child.  Omega-3 fish oil has been a vital part of these supplements due to the increased need for omega-3 fatty acids used to form brain, eye and other critical tissues in the fetus. More recently, studies have shown that maternal omega-3 supplementation can also improve brain function, as measured by IQ, reduce premature delivery and even help reduce the incidence of post-partum depression after delivery.

In a landmark article in the New England Journal of Medicine this month, researchers have demonstrated supplementation with omega-3 fish oil reduced the risk of persistent wheeze or asthma and infections of the lower respiratory tract by 1/3 compared to the placebo group. The study involved in almost 750 pregnant women resulting in 695 births. This study again confirms the tremendous benefits of omega-3 fish oil for a wide range of medical conditions.

The incidence of asthma and wheezing disorders has more than doubled in westernized countries in recent decades. These conditions often originate in early childhood and currently affect one in five young children. School days missed, emergency room visits, cost of medications and stress all take a toll on both the child and parents. As the authors of the study noted, most of the world population is deficient of omega-3s. An estimated 80% of the global population consumes less than 250 mg of EPA and DHA (the active molecules in fish oil) per day resulting a worldwide deficiency of this critical building block. The study used almost 10 times this amount to achieve the benefits they reported.

The study results are again proof that we need to maintain healthy omega-3 levels, through our either diet or supplementation, in order to be at our best.  As a commentator on the article note, Thus, there is benefit and little risk associated with omega-3 supplementation. There is likely to be a benefit for her child, at little risk, cost, or inconvenience. She (pregnant women) should start taking omega-3 supplements.”

Study FACTS:

  • 736 pregnant women at 24 weeks of gestation received 2.4 g of fish oil or placebo per day.
  • Neither the investigators nor the participants were aware of their treatment.
  • Study followed the children for 5 years after delivery.
  • The risk of persistent wheeze or asthma was reduced by one third, in the first 5 years of life among children of women who received daily supplementation with omega-3 fish oil during the third trimester
  • The benefits were greatest among children of women with low pre-treatment EPA and DHA (the active molecules in fish oil) blood levels.
  • Fish oil supplementation was also associated with a reduced risk of infections of the lower respiratory tract.


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Hans Bisgaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., Jakob Stokholm, M.D., Ph.D., et al, Fish Oil–Derived Fatty Acids in Pregnancy and Wheeze and Asthma in Offspring, N Engl J Med 2016;375:2530-9.

Eder W, Ege MJ, von Mutius E. The asthma epidemic. N Engl J Med 2006; 355:2226-35.

Masoli M, Fabian D, Holt S, Beasley R. The global burden of asthma: executive summary of the GINA Dissemination Committee report. Allergy 2004; 59: 469-78.

Olsen SF, Mikkelsen TB, Knudsen VK, et al. Data collected on maternal dietary exposures in the Danish National Birth Cohort. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol 2007; 21: 76-86.

Ramya Ramaswami, M.B., B.S., M.P.H., Charles N. Serhan, Ph.D., D.Sc., Bruce D. Levy, M.D., and Maria Makrides, B.N.D., Ph.D., Fish Oil Supplementation in Pregnancy, N Engl J Med 2016; 375:2599-2601, December 29, 2016


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