Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Maternal, Fetal, Infant and Child Wellbeing

Ellen Mozurkewich; Deborah R Berman; Julie Chilimigras


Expert Rev of Obstet Gynecol. 2010;5(1):125-138. 

In This Article

Allergy & Immunologic Disease

Evidence from Epidemiologic Studies

As with depression, allergy and immunologic diseases in the industrialized world have increased in parallel to the major dietary changes described previously.[92] Several epidemiologic studies have found consumption of oily fish or an increased of omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids ratio in the diet to be protective against wheezing and the likelihood of developing asthma.[93,94] Based on their biologic roles as modulators of immune function, some investigators have hypothesized that fatty acid imbalance during gestation may affect the likelihood that the child will develop allergy or immune disease in later life.[95]

Evidence from Clinical Trials

Few trials of prenatal omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for the prevention of allergic disease in the offspring have been conducted.[96–98] The Dunstan et al. trial randomized 98 pregnant women at risk for allergic disorders to receive fish oil or placebo. The investigators found no reduction in atopic dermatitis at 1 year of age but did note decreased severity of atopy among infants whose mothers received fish oil.[96] The Childhood Asthma Prevention Study randomized 616 pregnant women with a family history of asthma to an active diet intervention, including omega-3-rich cooking oils and spreads or placebo during pregnancy, followed by tuna oil supplementation or placebo after weaning. This study demonstrated an initial reduction in wheezing symptoms of these women's offspring at 18 months among those whose omega-3 exposure were in the highest quintile,[97] but no overall reduction of atopy or asthma at 5 years of life.[98] Further studies are needed to demonstrate whether prenatal dietary modification will have any effect on susceptibility to immune disease during postnatal life.


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