The research, carried out as a part of the EC-funded EARNEST project, traced the children born to mothers who had taken part in a trial conducted in 1990. In this original trial, more than 500 pregnant women were randomised into three different groups for the last ten weeks of their pregnancy.
One group was given fish oil supplements, another olive oil supplements and the third no supplements. The aim of that trial was to see whether fish oil reduced the risk of pre-term delivery and low birth weight. Mothers in the fish oil supplementation group increased, on average, the length of their pregnancies by four days and the average birth weight of their babies by about 100 gram.
The researchers managed to trace all but three of the babies born to the mothers in the original trial. By the time they were sixteen years old, 19 children had developed such severe asthma at some point that they had had to go to hospital. The risk of developing asthma was reduced in those whose mothers had been given fish oil supplements, compared to those whose mothers had been given olive oil supplements.
The reason fish oil might protect a fetus from developing asthma in later life could possibly also be related to its effect on increasing pregnancy duration, the scientists suggest. Pre-term children have a higher risk of developing asthma and it is possible that the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oils could both reduce the risk of pre-term birth and the likelihood of a baby later becoming asthmatic through their effect on reducing inflammation.
However, the scientists highlight that these are results from a relatively small trial and therefore it is most important that the results are confirmed by other trials before changing any dietary recommendations for pregnant women.
MEDICA.de; Source: Minerva prc ltd