Fish oil during pregnancy may lessen infant colds
August 1st, 2011
10:12 AM ET

Fish oil during pregnancy may lessen infant colds

Pregnant women who consume plenty of omega-3 fatty acids from supplements or natural sources such as salmon may be helping to fortify the immune system of their babies, a new study in the journal Pediatrics suggests.

Infants whose mothers took supplements containing docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA—one of the two main ingredients in fish oil—had fewer days with cold symptoms during their first six months of life than infants whose mothers received a placebo, the study found.

Newborns in the DHA group were also slightly less likely to come down with a cold in the first place.

Health.com: Pregnancy advice examined

Though promising, the new findings are preliminary. And the researchers say it's too soon for doctors to advise moms-to-be to take DHA supplements as an essential part of their pregnancy diet.

"Recommending women to take a dose of up to 400 milligrams of DHA during pregnancy would be safe, [but] how much of a benefit there is we don't know yet," says Usha Ramakrishnan, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and an associate professor of global health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects, have long been touted as a natural way to fight a range of ailments, from heart disease to depression.

"There is research to suggest that the fatty acid composition of many of our cells—particularly the immune cells—affect their function," Ramakrishnan says.

Health.com: Recipes for a healthy pregnancy

Previous research has suggested that DHA supplements can improve respiratory health and overall immune function in babies and children, but this is just the second study to explore whether exposure to DHA in the womb might have similar effects.

Ramakrishnan and her colleagues randomly assigned more than 800 pregnant women in Mexico to receive either 400 milligrams of DHA per day or a placebo. (The researchers used DHA supplements derived from algae rather than fish, because the distinctive taste of fish oil would have made it harder to disguise which type of pill the women were receiving.) The women began taking the pills during their second trimester and continued to do so until they gave birth.

Then, at three separate points over the next six months, the researchers surveyed the mothers about whether their child had experienced cold symptoms such as coughing, nasal congestion, and fever in the previous 15 days—and if so, how long the symptoms lasted.

Health.com: Fish oil doesn’t benefit new moms, babies

At all three time points, the duration of cold symptoms tended to be shorter in the children whose mothers had taken the DHA supplements. And at the one-month mark, the DHA babies had 24 percent lower odds of having had any cold symptoms.

Ramakrishnan says the findings can likely be extrapolated to the Hispanic population in the U.S. and most probably to other ethnic and racial groups, but more research will be needed to confirm the results.

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Copyright Health Magazine 2011

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Pete

    Advocare has 2 great ways to get omegas. OmegaPlus and Purple Champs. check it out under "Wellness" and buy it here: http://www.advocare.com/09013719

    August 1, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jimmy Cracks Capricorns

    Yeah, the industry that wants to sell you fish oil supplements says eat our pills, just don't eat any fish, they have high concentrations of lead from all the other stuff we make4 around the world.

    Eat a pill – don't eat the fish...Amerika!!

    August 1, 2011 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. WellnessDrive

    Mercury levels in fish is always a concern. My family loves fish and we try to be careful of the source. But for my wife when she was pregnant and to be safe for the family, we choose to get the best Omega III available.

    Heart Health has The Highest Quality you can buy. Each serving of 3000mg of fish oil comes from sardines and anchovies harvested off the coast of Peru. 200 quality checks ... to ensure it's free of mercury, lead, PCPs and other heavy metals. EPA 900 mg and DHA 600 mg.

    Go on a WellnessDrive.com and see for yourself under the "Uniqueness" tab.

    August 1, 2011 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • missa8182

      Actually, the "best" out there is DHA derived from algae. you shouldnt use fish oil at all, but rather choose the vegetarian (algae) version of DHA, which is what I took while pregnant. Then, you avoid much of the mercury issue altogether. Fish have such high levels of DHA because they consume algae, which has DHA in its purest and safest form. It also helps to breastfeed, as breastmilk is extremely high in DHA.

      August 1, 2011 at 20:20 | Report abuse |
  4. Me

    I can actually agree to this. I'm not big on fish oil, but I took the Expecta Lipil softgels made by Enfamil when I was pregnant with my daughter who is now 3. She has only had 2 colds in her life and both have been mild and short lived.

    August 1, 2011 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. FL Mom

    I took 4000-6000mg daily of high DHA fish oil while I was pregnant and nursing both of my children. They are in their teens now and still take fish oil daily, they have very rarely ever been sick. I also believe that taking fish oil durning pregnancy can help with brain function in children. Both of my children are extremely intelligent and perform very well in school ( this is not something they inheirited from their parents unfortunately!). I truly believe that the high DHA fish oil enabled them to develop into healthier children.

    August 1, 2011 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • WV Mom

      I agree with your post, I have taken DHA supplements with my last two pregnancies and I am taking them with this pregnancy as well. My children are also very intelligent and are hardly ever sick!! They too eat yogurt regularly and I swear by its probiotics power!! After reading this article on DHA I was so glad that I had taken them and given my children a great start to a healthy life!!

      August 2, 2011 at 03:39 | Report abuse |
  6. jlb7640

    My midwife told me not to take fish oil since there was mercury in the pills.

    August 1, 2011 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • WellnessDrive

      Depends on the quality. The ones that I found have many checks and screening tests before it is approved – not to mention that where the fish oil is extracted is from a very low risk source. I feel more comfortable with these than eating a fish that I have no idea what levels of mercury is in it. It's all a personal choice.

      August 1, 2011 at 17:32 | Report abuse |
  7. Emelia Kanson

    Does fish make you smarter, too? Or has that been disproven? Obviously, when from a good source, the benefits of fish (and fish oil) are bountiful though, so I suppose it might not matter...

    August 1, 2011 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Healthytastic

    I recently discovered fish oil and I love it! It helps me maintain clear skin. http://www.healthytastic.com

    August 1, 2011 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Laura

    I took purified fish oil throughout my pregnancy and I can testify that my son had zero colds/ zero illnesses whatsoever his entire first year of life. He was also breast fed and I continued to consume omega 3 oils while breastfeeding. Continued breastfeeding (much reduced) in the second year and it really helped when he was sick. Once he did get sick in his second and third year of life illnesses have been very mild. He's never even needed medicine or a visit to the doctor for an illness. Wooo hooo. Good nutrition can be very preventative. I also attribute some of his immune strength to plenty of probiotics from a variety of sources: children's acidophilus, organic yogurt, and organic kefir. Hey your intestines fight to flush that bad stuff out! Gotta have the good gut bacteria.

    August 1, 2011 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 2, 2011 at 04:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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  12. Happy Vegan

    Headlines like this drive me crazy! The article clearly states that the study was done with a vegan omega 3 supplement derived from algae – which is what I use – but the headline announces benefits of "fish oil." Hello, the study did not use fish oil! No fish were harmed (or eaten) in the experiment!

    August 2, 2011 at 07:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Tater's Mom

    I also took DHA/EPA supplements while pregnant and nursing (15 months), and buy organic milk with plant-based DHA for my 2 1/2 yr old daughter.

    She has only had a fever 2x in her life and they both lasted for less than 24 hours (and she attends full-time daycare). It is wonderful that CNN is getting this information out to the general public.

    August 2, 2011 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Edward

    This article teaches us that we have to check for way more things than ordinary things... Things like this can cause a lot of health problems. And mostly, it is not safe for the little children.

    August 12, 2011 at 20:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Pregnancy By Weeks

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Pregnancy By Weeks

    December 23, 2011 at 01:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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  17. Ashley

    Oh my my my! Ok, so i have been doing research on this DHA and EPA intake for preganacy. I have been taking it, but im just unsure of how much i can take maximum and how much is too little! Someone help me with this. Im driving my Boyfriend insane with questions he cant answer, and to my shock, my dr. cant tell me either. She just told me that the safe recommended dosage is 300mg. However i been taking way more than that. And no i got scared and im only taking 200mg now which is too little! WTH do i dooooooo.... Im in my last trimester and i dont want to stop taking the maximum i can if it has wonderful benefits.

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