Pregnant female asthmatics who eat oily fish may be helping to protect their children against developing asthma

Pregnant female asthmatics who eat oily fish, such as salmon or trout, may be helping to protect their children against developing asthma, according to a study presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in Orlando on May 25. The study also found that children whose mother ate fish sticks during pregnancy may be at increased risk of developing asthma.

The study found that children whose mothers ate fish sticks during pregnancy were twice as likely to develop asthma, whether or not their mothers had asthma themselves. “Fish sticks are deep-fried, and they contain omega-6 fatty acids, which encourage inflammation of the airways,” said study co-author Frank Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to be anti-inflammatory, and lead to the reduced potential for developing asthma and allergies.”

The study found that children whose mothers with asthma ate oily fish during pregnancy were 71% less likely to develop asthma on average; the more oily fish a woman ate, the less likely her child was to develop asthma.

Children with non-asthmatic mothers did not benefit from having their mother eat oily fish during pregnancy

“A family history of asthma is a very strong risk factor for a child developing asthma,” Dr. Gilliland said. “It appears that oily fish interacts with the genes involved in the predisposition to develop asthma, and somehow reduces the risk.”

The children in the study were selected from the Children’s Health Study, a population-based study of school-aged children in 12 Southern California communities. One group of children had physician-diagnosed asthma by age 5, and the other group was asthma-free when the study started. The children’s mothers were interviewed about their diet and other environmental exposures during pregnancy.

“We are learning more and more about the importance of fetal exposure to different substances, and how this affects the programming of the baby’s immune system,” Dr. Gilliland said.

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in some fish tissues and vegetable foods such as flax seeds and green leaves.

Omega-3 fatty acids are classed as essential fatty acids. These fatty acids were originally designated as "Vitamin F", until it was realized that they must be classified with the fats. The essential omega-3 fatty acid that the body cannot manufacture is EPA, eicosapentaenoic acid.


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