According to a new English study, increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids during the childhood years may lower your risk of developing asthma later in life but only if you have a specific gene variation. In addition, a previous Australian study reports that lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids in adults is associated with poorer asthma control. Diet generally seems to play a major role in the development of the disease and overweight individuals appear to benefit more than others from increasing their omega-3 intake. The big question is how much do they need to take?
Asthma is characterized by chronic inflammation in the airways that can be triggered by airborne allergens and virus infections. When the immune defense overreacts the body produces too much histamine, causing the smooth muscle tissue in the bronchi to contract. This is what gives breathing difficulty. The inflammatory processes also result in an overproduction of mucous and a constant urge to cough it up. This can be extremely exhausting and result in tiredness and impaired sleep.
Most cases of asthma start in the early childhood. In Great Britain, around 1.1 million children take asthma medicine. In Denmark, between 10-20 percent of all children have asthma or asthma-like symptoms. According to Professor Seif Shaheen from Queen Mary University in London, asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease and nobody know how to prevent it. Although it is possible that unhealthy eating habits increase the risk of developing asthma, most studies have only done short-term diet monitoring. For that reason, scientists from Queen Mary University of London analyzed the diets of children over a period of several years to see how it affected the risk of asthma.
The researchers looked closer at data from a large population study that had followed children born in the early 1990s. At the age of seven years, their intake of EPA and DHA from fish was assessed by means of food frequency questionnaires. Afterwards, the collected data was compared with new cases of asthma around the age of 11-14 years.
Out of 4,543 study participants, no direct link between fish intake and asthma risk was observed. However, the scientists found that children with a particular gene variation had a 51 per cent lower risk of developing asthma when they increased their omega-3 intake. The new study is published in European Respiratory Journal.
Just for the record, these are merely observations and the scientists cannot say with certainty that higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids during childhood can prevent asthma later in life. Their next move is therefore to investigate if children with preexisting asthma can prevent their condition from getting worse through increased omega-3 intake.
An Australian study has already demonstrated that increased intake of omega-3 helps prevent the disease in adulthood so there is good reason to believe that we should make sure to get enough of these essential fatty acids throughout life.
Omega-3 for prevention and treatment of asthma in adults
The study participants in the afore-mentioned study were healthy, non-smoking adults without asthma. All research was carried out at Hunter Medical Research Institute, Newcastle in Australia. The researchers measured the study participants’ BMI and collected blood samples to measure levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the red blood cells. Serum levels of different inflammatory markers were measured, including C-reactive protein (CRP), cytokines (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a). It is known that omega-3 fatty acids suppress the production of these pro-inflammatory markers. According to the study, having a low omega-3 index is associated with impaired asthma control and that may be related to local inflammation. Higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids is also linked to less asthma and reduced need for medicine, a link that was very significant among overweight study participants.
Considering that asthma affects millions of people and that the disease causes substantially reduced quality of life and increased need for medication with possible side effects, the scientists behind the study suggest an increased omega-3 intake as an adjuvant in asthma therapy. They also refer to other dietary studies showing that increased intake of omega-3 from the diet or from supplements can prevent or mitigate asthma in both children and adults.
In order to obtain the beneficial results, adults should consume over 800 mg of EPA and DHA daily, which is the amount you would get from eating oily fish four or five times per week. If you are not fond of fish or simply don’t eat sufficiently high quantities, a high-quality fish oil supplements is a viable alternative. The study is published in Nutrients.
Mohammad Talaei et al. Intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in childhood, FADS genotype, and incident asthma. European respiratory Journal. 2021
Queen Mary University of London. Consuming omega-3 fatty acids could prevent asthma, study suggest. ScienceDaily. January 27, 2021
Isobel Stoodley et al. Higher omega-3 Index Is Associated with better Asthma Control and Lower Medication Dose: A Cross-sectional Study. Nutrients 2020
Emily P Brigham et al. Omega-3 and Omega-6 intake Modifies Asthma Severity and Response to Indoor American Journal of respiratory and Clinical Care Medicine. 2019
Astma hos børn og unge | Lungeforeningen
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