Prenatal fish oil may fend off babies’ illness, according to study

August 1, 2011
infant health
Prenatal fish oil supplements may fend off illness in babies for months

THE QUESTION Might fish oil supplements taken by a pregnant woman affect her baby’s health?

THIS STUDY randomly assigned 1,094 pregnant women, 18 to 35 years old, to take fish oil supplements (400 milligrams of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid) or placebos daily from the time they were 18 to 22 weeks pregnant until childbirth. Their babies’ health was evaluated when the children were 1, 3 and 6 months old. Infants whose mothers had taken fish oil supplements were determined to be healthier overall: They were 24 percent less likely to have had colds at 1 month, and they spent 14 percent less time being sick by 3 months of age, compared with infants whose mothers had not taken fish oil. At 6 months, the offspring of mothers who had taken DHA had shorter bouts of illness than the other children.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Pregnant women and their offspring. Low doses of fish oil supplements (three or fewer grams a day) are considered safe for most people, including pregnant and breast-feeding women. The omega-3 fatty acids in the supplements also can be obtained by eating fish such as tuna, salmon, bluefish and trout.

CAVEATS Some data on the babies’ health came from questionnaires completed by their mothers. The effect of dietary consumption of fish oil was not assessed by the study.

FIND THIS STUDY Aug. 1 online issue of Pediatrics (www.
pediatrics.org
).

LEARN MORE ABOUT fish oil at www.nlm.nih.gov. Learn about infant health at www.nichd.nih.gov/health.

— Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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