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Increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy may improve baby’s immune system

January 25, 2012

Regular intakes of salmon, rich in omega-3 @@fatty acids, during pregnancy may support the development of the newborn’s immune responses, says a new UK study.

In the study, 123 pregnant women were randomly assigned either to a group in which the women continued consuming their habitual diets low in oily fish or to a group in which the women consumed two portions of salmon per week, thereby receiving a weekly dose of 3.45 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (1). A weekly analysis of umbilical cord blood in 101 of the women was performed from week 20 of gestation until delivery; 86 infants were evaluated at an age of six months. The study results showed that certain immune factors (interleukins) were lower in the group with higher oily fish intakes when the blood samples were exposed to an immune stimulant. With respect to immunoglobulin E levels – the predominant antibody associated with an allergic response – and the incidence and severity of eczema, there were no differences between the infants of mothers from the different groups.

The researchers commented that these results back previous findings indicating the beneficial effects of fish oil supplements on the immune system. Experts noted that in the study the average daily consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from week 20 of pregnancy was about 160 mg EPA and 330 mg DHA, which is considered the minimum amount of DHA necessary to supply the eye and brain tissue during infant development. Much higher doses were safely used in clinical research (greater than 1,000 mg DHA plus additional EPA). It may be possible that women need to consume higher doses of EPA and DHA (than used in the study) earlier in pregnancy to see greater benefits on immune health.

References

  1. Noakes P. S. et al. Increased intake of oily fish in pregnancy: effects on neonatal immune responses and on clinical outcomes in infants at 6 months. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Published online January 2012.