Omega-3 Fatty Acids Proven Effective for Children and Adults with Asthma

Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their ability to support heart and joint health. Recent studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can also help reduce the symptoms of asthma.

Asthma affects more than 20 million Americans, and the number of children falling victim to this chronic respiratory disease continues to rise. Some health care professionals believe that the incidence of asthma has increased in recent years because the typical American diet includes lower levels of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish, such as salmon), and higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids (found in margarine and vegetable oils). This dietary imbalance creates an inflammatory state, which is the perfect set-up for chronic illness, such as asthma.

Studies show that an intake of supplementary omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the inflammation that triggers the asthmatic mechanism.

A recent study at Tanta University, Egypt, and published in Acta Paediatrica, focused on 60 asthmatic children, average age 8, who received 1000 mg of fish oil, 200 mg of vitamin C and 15 mg of zinc supplements, as individual supplements and as a trio. After just six weeks, there was significant improvement of pulmonary function and pulmonary inflammatory markers in the children, with the supplements given singly, and even more improvement when they were given together.1

Researchers in Denmark found that women who start taking fish oil in late pregnancy have children who are 63% less likely to develop asthma than other children. In 1990, 533 women with normal pregnancies were divided into three groups and given fish oil, olive oil or no supplement to take during the last 10 weeks of their pregnancy.

A report published July ‘08 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, discusses how the fish oil reduced the chance of those babies going on to develop asthma during their first 16 years of life. The researchers concluded that increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids in late pregnancy might carry an important prophylactic potential in reducing asthma in children.2

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 80 to 90% of all individuals who have allergic asthma have exercise-induced asthma (EIA) with vigorous exercise or activity. And for teenagers and young adults, it is often the most common cause of asthma symptoms.

The good news is that, according to research findings by Indiana University exercise physiologist Timothy Mickleborough, there is convincing evidence that people who suffer from EIA can reduce their symptoms by supplementing their diets with fish oil.

In the fish oil study, the post-exercise lung function of the 16 participants—adults with mild-to-moderate persistent asthma—improved by about 64% and their use of emergency inhalers decreased by 31 percent when they consumed a diet supplemented with fish oil for three weeks.3

A recent follow-up study by Mickleborough and his team of researchers at Indiana University showed that of the active constituents of fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is a more potent inhibitor of inflammatory responses in human asthma cells than docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).4

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  1. Biltagi MA, Baset AA, Bassiouny M, Kasrawi MA, Attia M. Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and Zn supplementation in asthmatic children: a randomized self-controlled study. Acta Paediatr. 2009 Apr;98(4):737-42. Epub 2008 Jan 11.
  2. Olsen SF, Østerdal ML, Salvig JD, Mortensen LM, Rytter D, Secher NJ, Henriksen TB. Fish oil intake compared with olive oil intake in late pregnancy and asthma in the offspring: 16 y of registry-based follow-up from a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jul;88(1):167-75.
  3. Mickleborough TD, Lindley MR, Ionescu AA, Fly AD. Protective effect of fish oil supplementation on exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in asthma. Chest. 2006 Jan;129(1):39-49.
  4. Mickleborough TD, Tecklenburg SL, Montgomery GS, Lindley MR. Eicosapentaenoic acid is more effective than docosahexaenoic acid in inhibiting proinflammatory mediator production and transcription from LPS-induced human asthmatic alveolar macrophage cells. Clin Nutr. 2009 Feb;28(1):71-7. Epub 2008 Dec 2.