Daily Prenatal DHA Linked to Fewer Colds in Infants

Laurie Barclay, MD

August 04, 2011

August 4, 2011 — Maternal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation at 400 mg/day during pregnancy is linked to fewer and shorter colds in the infants, according to the results of a double-blind, randomized controlled trial reported online August 1 in Pediatrics.

"Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as ...DHA influence immune function and inflammation; however, the influence of maternal DHA supplementation on infant morbidity is unknown," write Beth Imhoff-Kunsch, MPH, PhD, from the Nutrition and Health Sciences Program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues. "We investigated the effects of prenatal DHA supplementation on infant morbidity."

In Mexico, pregnant women were assigned to receive daily supplementation with 400 mg of DHA or placebo from 18 to 22 weeks' gestation through delivery.

Caregivers of infants aged 1 month (n = 849), 3 months (n = 834), and 6 months (n = 834) reported the occurrence of common illness symptoms in the preceding 15 days.

The groups did not differ in the occurrence of specific illness symptoms. At 1 month, however, the DHA group had a lower occurrence of a combined measure of cold symptoms (odds ratio [OR], 0.76; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.58 - 1.00). Duration of cough, phlegm, and wheezing in the DHA group at 1 month was 26%, 15%, and 30% shorter, respectively, but duration of rash was 22% longer (all P ≤ .01).

At 3 months, duration of illness was 14% less for infants in the DHA group (P < .0001). At 6 months, infants in the DHA group had 20%, 13%, 54%, 23%, and 25% shorter duration of fever, nasal secretion, difficulty breathing, rash, and "other illness," respectively. However, duration of vomiting at 6 months was 74% longer in the DHA group (all P < .05).

"Maternal DHA supplementation (400 mg/day) during pregnancy decreased the occurrence of colds in infants at 1 month and influenced illness symptom duration at 1, 3, and 6 months," the study authors write. "This dose of DHA can be achieved through diet."

Limitations of this study include heterogeneity of the findings and Illness symptoms reported by the mother and not confirmed by a healthcare professional.

"Our findings contribute to the accumulating evidence base for a relationship of prenatal n-3 PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acid] nutrition to the development of fetal and neonatal immune function," the study authors conclude. "n-3 PUFA may influence fetal and infant immune function development in utero, via breast milk, or by a combination of both prenatal and postnatal factors. Additional studies that are designed specifically to examine the influence of perinatal n-3 PUFA nutriture on infant immune function and include both biologically and clinically relevant outcomes are necessary to evaluate the potential value of dietary modification or n-3 PUFA supplementation during pregnancy and/or lactation."

The National Institutes of Health and the March of Dimes Foundation supported this study. The study authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Pediatrics. Published online August 1, 2011.

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