Expectant mothers who take fish oil during the first three months of their pregnancy are more likely to lower their child's risk of having asthma, a new study says.

Pediatrician Dr. Hans Bisgaard and his colleagues at the University of Copenhagen examined how a regular intake of fish oil during pregnancy can help prevent unborn babies from developing asthma.

The researchers discovered that pregnant women who were given fish oil supplements throughout their third trimester were able to reduce their child's chances of getting the respiratory condition considerably by the time the child became a toddler.

While a potential link between fish oil and better asthma protection had been established by earlier studies, the new paper is believed to be the first to discuss the magnitude with which the benefits could be seen.

Benefits Of Fish Oil Intake For Pregnant Women

To find out the impact of fish oil intake on pregnant women, Bisgaard and his team gave 2.4 grams of either olive oil or fish oil capsules to more than 700 expectant mothers, who were in the third trimester of pregnancy. The participants were unaware which of the two supplements they had taken.

The team also monitored the health of the participants' babies up until the children were 5 years old.

Bisgaard and his colleagues found that as much as 24 percent of children born to mothers who took olive oil capsules went on to develop persistent wheezing or asthma by the time they were 5.

On the other hand, only 17 percent of kids whose mothers took fish oil supplements went on to develop asthma or wheezing by the same age. This represents a 30 percent drop in asthma or wheezing cases among the participants' children.

According to Bisgaard, the children of mothers who initially had low levels of fish oil lipids at the start of the study experienced the biggest benefit from taking the supplements.

The researchers recommend having pregnant women undertake a simple blood test to find out if they would most likely benefit from taking fish oil supplements. They refer to this strategy as "precision prevention," because it specifically targets women who would benefit from the capsules more than others.

Bisgaard believes many women in the United States would benefit significantly from taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy, especially since they are known to eat far less fish meat compared to women in Denmark.

The findings of the University of Copenhagen study are featured in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Photo: Martin Cooper | Flickr

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