Reduce Childhood Asthma with Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Dr. Sears' Blog: Can Childhood Asthma Be Reduced with Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

In a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dutch women who regularly supplemented with 2.4 grams of EPA and DHA during their third trimester had a 31% reduction in the number of asthma and wheezing attacks in their children three years after birth. In addition, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids resulted in having fewer respiratory track infections in these same children.1 This is significant since asthma attacks are one of the primary reasons for early childhood visits to emergency rooms.

The greatest improvement was seen in a sub-segment of women who had the lowest levels of EPA and DHA to start.  In this population of mothers, asthma attacks were reduced by 54% in their children after supplementation.1

None of this is surprising to me since I have been recommending that level of EPA and DHA supplementation (2.5 grams of EPA and DHA per day) to pregnant mothers for over a decade starting with my book, The OmegaRx Zone.

Findings on Omega-3 Improvements in Asthma may be Just the Beginning

In an accompanying commentary to this article, it was pointed out that it was not the lack of EPA and DHA that causes asthma, but the overproduction of leukotrienes derived from excess arachidonic acid (AA).2

I suspect if the authors had used the AA/EPA ratio an indicator of cellular inflammation, the results would have been even more striking than just looking at total levels of EPA and DHA in the blood.

Regardless of how the blood lipids were analyzed, these findings are still dramatic, especially when you consider the implications for American mothers.

Why It Is Critical for American Women To Supplement

When it comes to the levels of EPA and DHA in Dutch women compared to American women, there are a few things to consider.

  1. Dutch women have much higher starting levels of EPA and DHA in their blood than do Americans because they eat a lot more fatty fish. This means the results in pregnant American mothers may even be greater.
  2. The level of supplemental EPA and DHA used in this study was 15 to 20 times higher than the average daily intake of Americans,2 but totally in line with my recommendations.

Together, these points suggest that the impact of taking this same amount of EPA and DHA in the last trimester for American mothers would have had an even a greater reduction in asthma for their children than reported in the study for Dutch children. Why? Because they are starting with an even lower level of EPA and DHA.

The Benefits of Omega-3s May Improve Other Autoimmune Conditions

Unfortunately in this study, fish oil supplementation was stopped after the child was born.  Asthma is an autoimmune disorder that shares a lot of similarities with another autoimmune disorder that strikes young children:  type 1 diabetes.3

Type 1 diabetes is far more devastating than asthma.  In Norway, it is a national mandate that children start taking liquid EPA and DHA (usually in the form of cod liver oil) starting at one week of birth.  This amount of EPA and DHA would be approximately 800 mg per day.  It was reported in 2003 that women who complied with this mandate had a 26% reduction in the development of type 1 diabetes in their children.4  Since there is no known treatment for type 1 diabetes, this should be considered a medical breakthrough.

What if you gave a higher dose of EPA and DHA to children who had already developed type 1 diabetes?  Could their diabetes be managed without the need for increasing injections of insulin?  The answer appears to be yes.5

In a case study with a 14-year old type 1 diabetic taking significantly greater levels of EPA and DHA (about 7.5 grams of EPA and DHA per day), there appeared to be regeneration of his beta cell function with greater insulin output.  While these levels of EPA and DHA were far greater than those in the Norwegian mandates,6 they were still less than in other published studies with young children being treated for ADHD using high-dose EPA and DHA.7

Not All Fish Oil is the Same, So Be Sure Your Fish Oil is Refined

Supplementation with highly refined EPA and DHA both during pregnancy and after birth may be the one of the most important things a parent can do for the future health of their child.

Having the mother take fish oil capsules supplying a minimum of 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA per day is relatively easy.  Just make sure that the fish oil is highly refined, meaning it is very low in toxins such as PCBs.  Of course, how do you know what the levels of PCBs are in a fish oil product?

If you take OmegaRx 2 we make it simple because we enclose a Purity Report with every lot which includes the PCB levels in every shipment. No other company in the world does this.  It’s expensive, but it is critical information you have to know.  If you aren’t supplementing with OmegaRx 2, then I encourage you to use our Fish Oil Calculator to see how your brand compares to OmegaRx 2 in terms of price and purity.

Making It Easier To Take Omega-3s for Infants

Obviously, it is not practical to give omega-3 capsules to an infant.  Furthermore I would never recommend cod liver oil since it not a refined fish oil product.  Fortunately, OmegaRx 2 is available in liquid form and is virtually tasteless, so your child should be able to take it straight. That’s how my grandson gets his dose every morning.  If you prefer, OmegaRx 2 liquid can also be easily mixed into a puree or applesauce.

Good for Asthma, Very Good for the Brain

Not only are omega-3 fatty acids good for asthma, but they also very good for the brain as the child’s brain is the most rapidly growing organ in the body during the first two years of life.  That growth requires adequate levels of dietary EPA and DHA.  That’s why your grandmother called fish oil “brain food.”  Who knew grandma was at the cutting edge of 21st century biotechnology?

References:

  1. Bisgaard H et al. “Fish oil-derived fatty acids in pregnancy and wheeze and asthma in offspring.”  N Engl J Med 375:2530-2539 (2017).
  2. Ramsden CE. “Breathing easier with fish oil—a new approach to preventing asthma? N Engl J Med 375:2596-2598 (2017).
  3. Tedeschi A and Asero R. “Asthma and autoimmunity: a complex but intriguing relation.”  Expert Rev Clin Immunol 4:767-776 (2008).
  4. Stene LC et al. “Use of cod liver during the first year of life is associated with lower risk of childhood-onset type 1 diabetes.” Am J Clin Nutr 78: 1128-1134 (2003).
  5. Baidal DA et al. “Combination of high-dose omega-3 fatty acids and high-dose cholecaliferol in new onset type 1 diabetes.” Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 20: 3313-3318 (2016).
  6. Sears B. “High-dose omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D for preservation of residual beta cell mass in type 1 diabetes.”  CellR4  4:e2107 (2016).
  7. Sorgi PJ et al. “Effects of an open-label pilot study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder Nutr J 13:16  (2007).

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About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 45 years to the study of lipids. He has published 40 scientific articles and holds 14 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 14 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller, The Zone, which have sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.

Comments

  1. Jazmin Almodovar

    Hello Dr. Sears

    My son is 5 years old, at the age of 3 he went into Cardiac arrest secondary to Asthma. He now has anoxic brain damage. Currently doesnt walk or talk. I have been looking to buy the omega rx gish oil for him . Is there anything else he should take?

    Reply
    • Barry Sears

      I would recommend for every 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA to add one MaquiRx capsule containing 120 mg of polyphenols to protect the increased omega-3 fatty acids in the blood from potential oxidation.

      Reply
  2. Dr. Barry Sears

    Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are fermentation products of fermentable fiber in the colon. They are critical to maintaining gut health because of their impact on the immune system that is our immunological barrier to prevent widespread infiltration of microbes in the colon into the blood. Furthermore, without adequate levels of fermentable fiber in the diet to make SCFA, the microbes will start digesting the carbohydrate components of the mucus barrier creating a leaky gut. However, there are two reasons why taking SCFA would have no benefits. First they would be rapidly absorbed via the portal vein in the small intestine and never reach the colon. Second, they have the taste of vomit since they are a major component of it.

    Reply
    • Mark McGinn

      very interesting Dr Sears, thanks, so Omega 3’s from fish oil go hand in hand with polyphenols and soluble fiber to
      bolster the immune system in the gut to prevent an inflammatory state there, and prevent inflammatory substances
      from getting into the blood stream.

      What are your thoughts on evidence that the SCFA butyrate can calm down inflammation in autoimmune
      diseases by increasing T-regulatory cells ?

      Reply
  3. Mark McGinn

    Great work finding and interpreting the most recent and most meaningful studies of the ton of studies out there,
    I don’t think anyone is better at this than Dr Sears,

    Question Barry,
    what are your thoughts on short chain fatty acids in reducing over inflammation as well ?

    Reply

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