According to a study from Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine and Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, there are certain compounds in fish oil that can prevent pregnancy complications that follow in the wake of a regular bacterial infection. These complications include miscarriage, preterm delivery, and infant death. There are an estimated 15 million premature deliveries per year on a global scale, and each year around one million babies die as a result of this. Preterm infants also have an increased risk of vision impairment, retarded physical development, and learning disabilities. The researchers therefore suggest new strategies for recommending nutritional supplements and fish oil supplements during pregnancy.
Around 10 percent of infants in the United States are born too early. Ten to 30 percent of the preterm deliveries are attributable to uterine infections caused by F. nucleatum, an otherwise harmless bacterium that is normally found in the oral cavity. Based on their new study, the scientists can see the potential of a new prophylactic treatment for pregnant women that may lower their risk of these pregnancy complications, and even prevent deaths.
When harmless bacteria become morbid
Our skin and mucous membranes harbor billions of bacteria that are part of our natural microflora. These microorganisms keep each other in check in a delicate balance, and they even have a variety of functions that are vital to our health. Still, some of these microorganisms are potentially harmful, especially if they get a chance to multiply too rapidly or migrate to sites where they do not belong.
According to the scientist, Yiping Ha, PhD, who headed the new study, the bacterium F. nucleatum is very common. We all have it our oral mucosa, but it causes problems if it enters the bloodstream. There is a particularly great risk that these bacteria can spread and cause a uterine infection in pregnant women.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can easily cause infection and bleeding of the gums, and this affects around 30 percent of pregnant women.
Minor lesions in the oral cavity and bleeding gums allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream. The immune system is designed to eliminate these bacteria right away, but if the immune system does not function optimally, the bacterial may infect the uterus and cause an inflammation that, in worst case, can lead to a miscarriage, preterm delivery or stillbirth.
The inflammatory mechanism that is caused by a bacterium and a special protein
Yiping Ha explains that he and his colleagues knew from earlier research that uterine infection caused by this bacterium was linked to pregnancy complications, so their job now was to find out more precisely what causes these infections to trigger inflammation. They carried out their research on pregnant mice in their third trimester by injecting into the mice the before mentioned bacterium. Quite as expected, it invaded the mice’s uteruses. What they then discovered was that the bacterium triggered an inflammatory response in the endothelial cells, which is the layer of cells that lines the blood vessels in the uterus. It was this inflammation that caused preterm delivery.
Yiping Ha and his scientists also observed that the inflammatory response only occurred when a specific protein was present in the endothelial cell lining. Pregnant mice that lacked this protein, had fewer stillbirths, which made the scientists conclude that this specific protein is the key to preterm deliveries caused by the bacterial infection.
Omega-3 prevents inflammation
When Yiping Ha and his team of researchers had determined how the bacteria triggered inflammation in the uterus, they cultivated uterine cells to find out how to block these mechanisms by using anti-inflammatory methods that are considered safe for pregnant women.
It is known already that fish oil supplements are useful for treating inflammatory diseases such as rheumatism and cardiovascular diseases, and many health professionals recommend omega-3 during pregnancy to support normal development of the brain, nervous system, and vision of the unborn baby.
The following studies showed that supplements of omega-3 fatty acids helped inhibit inflammation and bacterial growth in the pregnant mice, thereby lowering their risk of miscarriage or stillbirth
The scientists used fish oil doses that were substantially greater than those normally recommended for supplementation. Although the study results pave the road for promising research in the future, the scientists are not expecting their work to produce immediate changes in clinical practice. However, pregnant women can use fish oil supplements to prevent preterm delivery, according to a Cochrane review from 2018.
Other important strategies that help pregnant women
It is important in any case for the expecting mother to get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C, vitamin D, selenium, zinc, and other nutrients, on which the hormone system and immune system depend. There are special combination products on the market that are tailored specifically for pregnancy. Another thing that is important is thorough dental hygiene to avoid lesions and infections in the oral cavity that can cause the problematic bacteria to migrate to the bloodstream
James Ives. Compounds found in fish oil may prevent pregnancy complications, finds study. News Medical Life Sciences 2019
M Makrides, L Duley, SF Olsen. Fisk oil and other prostaglandin precursor supplementation during pregnancy for reducing pre-eclampsia, preterm birth, low birth weight and intrauterine growth restriction. Cochrane review, 2018
Wiley. Omerga-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of premature birth. ScienceDaily 2018
Pernille Lund Immunforsvarets nye ABC. Hovedland 2012
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