Millions of infants contract respiratory conditions such as asthma, allergies, respiratory syncytial virus, COPD and others. Research shows that if the mother supplements with algal DHA the risk of these conditions can be significantly reduced.
While respiratory conditions in children are generally associated with the transmission of bacteria, viruses and allergens, increasingly scientists are discovering that respiratory conditions are associated with reduced immunity in the child.
And reduced immunity in the child is often related to the diet and supplementation strategies of the mother while pregnant. Algal DHA in particular has been shown to have this effect.
Research on pregnant mothers
This is illustrated by research from Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and the World Health Organization’s Center for Research and Children’s Environmental Health has determined that algal DHA supplementation during pregnancy significantly reduces the child’s risk of having respiratory conditions.
The researchers tested 1,094 pregnant women who were between 18 and 35 years old. The women were randomly divided into two groups. One group was given 400 milligrams per day of algal Docosahexaenoic acid and the other group was given a placebo between 18 weeks of gestation and birth of the child.
The researchers then followed the mother-child pairs for 18 months after birth. They gave each mother-child pair a questionnaire at one month old, three months old, six months, nine months, one year old and 18 months.
The researchers utilized negative binomial regression models to correlate the effects between supplementation and respiratory symptoms. Coughing, fevers, phlegm, nasal discharge and nasal congestion were compared between the children.
The researchers found that there was a 22% lower incidence of phlegm with nasal discharge or nasal congestion, and a 47% reduced incidence of fevers with phlegm and nasal discharge or nasal congestion among those children of mothers who supplemented with DHA – specifically among those mothers who had any allergic history.
Other research has linked mothers with a history of allergies with a higher incidence of respiratory conditions.
The researchers concluded:
“Our results support the hypothesis that DHA supplementation during pregnancy may decrease the incidence of respiratory symptoms in children with a history of maternal atopic.”
What is Algal DHA?
Algal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is commercially derived from the oil of two algae microorganisms: Crypthecodinium cohnii and Schizochytrium spp. These produce a pure form of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. DHA and its derivative – EPA or Eicosapentaenoic acid – are fatty acids used by the body in cell membranes notably among the brain and nervous system.
Fish and fish oil is considered by many to be the primary source for DHA, but fish ultimately derive their DHA up the food chain from DHA algae. And fish also bioaccumulate other things as well – such as mercury and dioxin.
EPA is converted from DHA in the body, as EPA doesn’t last long. DHA can be stored in cells for immediate use. The liver will also convert DHA from alpha linolenic acid (ALA), but this means the consumption of ALA foods – including flax, walnuts, chia seeds, soy, perilla seed, purslane, pumpkin seeds and others.
Other research has found that babies given formula have better growth and brain development. However, in comparison with ALA supplementation, DHA has not been found to be significantly different. In one study of 598 children between six and ten years old, groups given ALA supplementation and those given DHA supplementation all showed significant improvement when given multivitamins in combination.
And in a study of 235 school children, those given DHA supplementation had improved visual attention and impulsivity, and better social behavior.
How Omega-3s increase immunity
One of the reasons why omega-3s and in particular, algal DHA, increase immunity is that they help protect cell membranes from toxin and viral intrusion. Cells membranes are lined with fatty acids, and omega 3s provide stronger, less penetrable cell membranes. Omega 3s like algal DHA also provide increased immunity because they inhibit inflammation – as opposed to the more pro-inflammatory, shorter-chain omega-6 oils, and the absolute oxidative potential of trans fats.
However, a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 oils is best.
Escamilla-Nuñez MC, Barraza-Villarreal A, Hernández-Cadena L, Navarro-Olivos E, Sly PD, Romieu I. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy and respiratory symptoms in Children. Chest. 2014 Mar 13. doi: 10.1378/chest.13-1432.
Kuratko CN, Barrett EC, Nelson EB, Salem N Jr. The relationship of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) with learning and behavior in healthy children: a review. Nutrients. 2013 Jul 19;5(7):2777-810. doi: 10.3390/nu5072777.
Kirby A, Woodward A, Jackson S, Wang Y, Crawford MA. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study investigating the effects of omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8-10 years from a mainstream school population. Res Dev Disabil. 2010 May-Jun;31(3):718-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2010.01.014.