Mothers who intake omega-3 acids during pregnancy could strengthen their babies' immune system. (Photo: Emory Univ./Stock File/FIS)
Omega-3 taken in pregnancy could protect infants' health: study
Wednesday, August 03, 2011, 04:20 (GMT + 9)
A new study by Emory University suggests that babies will be protected against illness during early infancy if their mothers consume omega-3 fatty acids from supplements or fish during pregnancy.
The findings of the randomized, placebo-controlled trial were published online in the journal Pediatrics.
Scientists followed about 1,100 pregnant women and 900 infants in Mexico. The women were given daily supplements of 400 mg of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) in the algal form or placebo from 18 to 22 weeks gestation through childbirth.
The researchers said no fear should exist of mercury contamination in DHA from algae, HealthDay reports.
Children whose mothers took DHA supplements were found to suffer from fewer colds and shorter illnesses at one, three and six months of age.
"This is a large scale, robust study that underscores the importance of good nutrition during pregnancy," said Usha Ramakrishnan, PhD, associate professor, Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health.
Ramakrishnan noted that, according to the study, pregnant women who take 400 mg of DHA are more likely to deliver healthier babies.
“There is research to suggest that the fatty acid composition of many of our cells—particularly the immune cells—affect their function,” Ramakrishnan commented, Health.com reports.
At one month of age, the infants in the DHA group had a reduced incidence of cold symptoms by 25 per cent, such a shorter duration of cough, phlegm and wheezing.
At three months of age, those infants spent 14 per cent less time sick.
At six months of age, those infants experienced shorter duration of fever, nasal secretion, difficulty breathing and rash, even though they had a longer duration of vomiting.
Ramakrishnan and her colleagues previously reported findings that babies of women pregnant with their first child who consumed 400 mg DHA during pregnancy delivered babies 100 g heavier at birth and 3/4 cm longer at 18 months of age.
The researchers also detected increased DHA levels in breast milk, and all of the infants in the study were breastfed.
“Recommending women to take a dose of up to 400 milligrams of DHA during pregnancy would be safe, [but] how much of a benefit there is we don’t know yet,” Ramakrishnan concluded.
The study was funded by the NIH and the March of Dimes Foundation.
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