Prenatal Omega-3 Boosts Baby's Immune System

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Women who take omega-3 supplements during pregnancy may help prevent their babies from catching cold's during their first 6 months of life.

Omega-3 supplements, in addition to helping brain and nervous system development, may give developing infants an immunity boost, making cold symptoms and duration less severe.

The findings are to be published in the upcoming September edition of Pediatrics, the official journal for the American Academy of Pediatrics. In the study, 800 women from Mexico were divided into two groups. The first group received an algae-derived omega-3 supplement starting from between the 18th and 22nd week of their pregnancy while the other half received a placebo.

Once their babies were born, each of the mothers were asked to keep a journal of their child's health symptoms and illnesses. These findings were recorded at 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months of age.

The results of the study showed that the babies of the women who had received the omega-3 supplements had up to a 24% decrease in risk of having a combination of cold symptoms at 1 month of age. At 3 months the babies who had colds had a 14% decrease in the duration of their illness and then at 6 months they had a shorter duration of symptoms related to their illnesses.

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"The data suggested that for most of the symptoms we looked at, duration of symptoms was less when mothers received DHA. And, in the case of colds, the probability of a cold was slightly less. The effects seemed to be strongest early on after birth," said Usha Ramakrishnan, study senior author and associate professor in the Hubert Department of Global Health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta.

Omega-3 is a type of fatty acid that is taken in through the diet. The most abundant source of omega-3 is from fish. However, due to mercury concerns with high fish consumption during pregnancy many women are encouraged to intake omega-3 from flax seed oil, nuts, or in supplement form.

Omega-3 consumption has been linked to a wide range of health benefits including protection against cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment and inflammation. More recently, many healthcare providers have begun recommending omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy due to studies showing a positive benefit on neurological and retinal development. Furthermore, some data also suggest that they may help prevent against pre-term birth in high-risk mothers.

While the study authors say that the findings are significant, they acknowledge that the evidence is not strong enough to recommend routine supplementation of omega-3 for the purpose of improving the immune system of babies.

However, Dr. Jenifer Wu, an OBGYN from Lenox Hill Hosital in New York City told HealthDay she routinely encourages these supplements to pregnant women. She recommends that women thinking about becoming pregnant should "start prenatal vitamins and DHA supplements about three months before pregnancy and then continue them throughout the pregnancy. If you're not taking them ahead of time, you may miss out on proper nutrition."

Updated 8/3/2013

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