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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Pregnancy, Lactation & Infant Immune Development

By Michael McBurney

On Tuesday, April 5, Dr Philip C Calder was awarded the 10th Danone International Prize for Nutrition in recognition of his nutrition research contributions at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).  

In a video interview, Professor Calder discusses his surprise and the personal impact of this award. He highlights the importance of nutrition, especially vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, in the support of the immune system. In his Tuesday presentation “Feeding the Immune System”, Calder reported on research that children born to mother who eat salmon when pregnant may be less likely to have doctor diagnosed asthma (compared to children who do not eat salmon).

Although the impact of maternal diet on asthma is still being explored, supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids to increase maternal n-3 concentrations during pregnancy and lactation may help support the immune development of infants. There is evidence that increasing omega-3 intake of infants helps reduce the risk of skin and respiratory allergies.  

Almost 20 years ago, Dr R Gibson and colleagues demonstrated breast milk DHA concentrations, and infant plasma and red blood cell DHA concentrations, rise in a dose dependent manner with dietary omega-3 intake.

Based on national surveys (NHANES 2009-2012), we found ~20% of Americans report not eating ANY fish in the previous month. Only 20% recall eating recommended numbers of high omega-3 fish servings per month (4 servings) and of these, only 18% are consuming 250 mg EPA+DHA per day.

When women are not consuming the recommended number of fatty fish servings, it is important to use fish or algal oil EPA+DHA supplements during pregnancy and lactation.

Main Citation

Yu Y-M, Chan Y-H, Calder PC, Hardjojo A, Soh S-E, Lim AL, Fisk HL, Teoh OH, Goh A, Saw S-M, Kwek K, Gluckman PD, Godfrey KM, Chong Y-S, Shek LP-C, Pan A, Chong MFF, van Bever HPS, and GUSTO study group. Maternal PUFA status and offspring allergic diseases up to the age of 18 months. 2015 Br J Nutr doi: 10.1017/S0007111451500001X

Other Citations

Kumar A, Mastana SS, Lindley MR. n-3 fatty acids and asthma. 2016 Nutr Res Rev doi: 10.1017/S0954422415000116

Foiles AM, Kerling EH, Wick JA, Scalabrin DMF, Colombo J, Carlson SE. Formula with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids reduces incidence of allergy in early childhood. 2016 Pediatr Allergy Immunol doi:10.1111/pai.12515

Gibson RA, Neumann MA, Makrides M. Effect of increasing breast milk docoshexaenoic acid on plasma and erythrocyte phospholipid fatty acids and neural indices of exclusively breast fed infants. 1997 Eur J Clin Nutr 51(9):578-584