Professor Ken Stark taking a sample of blood in Waterloo's Laboratory of Nutritional and Nutraceutical Research to determine the levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers found that omega-3 supplements taken during pregnancy significantly reduce the risk of childhood asthma. Photo by Light Imaging
WATERLOO, Ontario, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Researchers have found taking certain omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy reduces the risk of the child developing asthma by nearly one-third.
The study from the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood, or COPSAC, and the University of Waterloo, found that women who were prescribed 2.4 grams of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids during the third trimester of pregnancy reduced the risk of their child developing the disease by 31 percent.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids -- eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA -- are found in cold-water fish and help regulate the body's immune response.
"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," Professor Hans Bisgaard of COPSAC at Copenhagen University Hospital said in a press release. "This study proves that they are definitively and significantly related."
University of Waterloo researchers used rapid analytical techniques to measure levels of EPA and DHA in the women's blood.
Researchers analyzed blood samples of 695 Danish women at 24 weeks' gestation and one week after delivery. The team then followed the health status of each child for five years.
The research showed that women with low blood levels of EPA and DHA at the beginning of the study benefitted the most from the supplements by reducing their children's risk of developing asthma by 54 percent.
"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," Professor Ken Stark, Canada Research Chair in Nutritional Lipidomics and professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences in Waterloo and study author, said in a press release. "So we would expect an even greater reduction in risk among North American populations. Identifying these women and providing them with supplements should be considered a front-line defense to reduce and prevent childhood asthma."
The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.