Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Allergy and Asthma

    Friday, 20 March 2015 07:00  Blog

Role of Omega-3 Fatty AcidsOmega-3 fatty acids are a specific type of fatty acid that are essential for a number of human functions and that can be found in plants and oils and many of the things we eat. Fatty acids provide us with energy and are essential for a number of human functions.

What are the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids?

Asthma is the leading cause for death among children, and recent research suggests that susceptibility to asthma can be reduced with methods as simple as changes in diet. Specifically, eating more omega-3 fatty acids may improve resistance to asthma. Several studies now demonstrate that dietary omega-3 fatty acids improve asthma symptoms in children. However, some studies fail to show this beneficial effect of omega-3 fatty acids on children’s health. Genetic factors may underlie the inconsistencies found in studies analyzing the impact of omega-3 fatty acid consumption on asthma. Future research will likely help clarify when and in whom omega-3 fatty acids will improve health outcomes.

Though omega-3 fatty acids are implicated in a number of inflammatory diseases, including asthma and allergy, their benefits appear to extend to other types of diseases as well, including depression, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, arthritis, gum disease, and hearing loss. These fatty acids are in fact critical for health and have been shown to be particularly important for growth in children. They are important for the development of the brain’s cell membranes and for blood clotting.

Where do we get our omega-3 fatty acids?

The body does not make omega-3 fatty acids, so our need for these fatty acids must be met by ingesting them. They are found in many foods including several oils, green vegetables, and fatty fish. Specifically, kale, spinach, and other salad greens, as well as brussel sprouts and salmon are all known sources for omega-3 fatty acids.

Though we know that these types of foods can provide the benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids, we do not have good techniques for quantifying these benefits or comparing benefits across food types. However, it does appear clear that ingesting omega-3 fatty acids in food is more beneficial than taking supplements of omega-3 fatty acids. Further, some studies find an associated between the reduction in our intake of fish oil and our increased incidence of asthma and allergy. This finding is perhaps intuitive given the studies that show that children who consume oily fish tend to be less at risk for developing asthma than those who do not consume oily fish.

An important thing to recognize in terms of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is that the effects of omega-6 fatty acids can counter them. Unfortunately, omega-6 fatty acids are also abundant in foods we consume, including corn and soybean. Scientists and physicians therefore suggest that it is important to maintain a ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids that favors more omega-3 fatty acids in your system.

Why and how can omega-3 fatty acids minimize asthma or allergy?

Though many of the diseases that are affected by omega-3 fatty acid consumption are not categorized as inflammatory disease, the benefits imparted by omega-3 fatty acids may occur through the minimization of inflammation. For instance, it appears that for those who consume omega-3 fatty acids and enjoy benefits related to asthma and allergy, omega-3 fatty acids reduce immune responses associated with these disorders. Specifically, by reducing eosinophil activities, omega-3 fatty acids may help maintain lung function and prevent symptoms of asthma and allergy, including coughing, sneezing, and runny noses.

Not only can asthma and allergy be affect by the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids by patients themselves, but consumption by patients’ mothers may also have an influence. A study conducted in 2011 showed that if pregnant women took supplements of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, their children were less likely to develop asthma or to test positive on the egg skin prick test. However, once asthma or allergy have developed, it may take longer than 9 months of omega-3 fatty acid consumption to experience the health benefits. One study recently showed that 8-12 year olds who consumed omega-3 fatty acids over a 6 month period showed what should immune system changes that should theoretically reduce asthma and allergy symptoms, but they did not actually experience those clinical effects. Researchers therefore suggested that the severity of symptoms may not be reduced unless omega-3 fatty acids are consumed over a long period of time. It is also possible that there is a critical dose of omega-3 fatty acids, under which the clinical benefits are not realized.

Final thoughts

Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help combat natural immune responses that lead to problematic health outcomes, such as asthma and allergy. The specific way omega-3 fatty acids achieve this effect on the immune system is not well understood, and there is a great degree of variability in the effects of omega-3 fatty acids between individuals. It is important to consume adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet to support several bodily functions and so that potential health benefits will be afforded. If you eat a lot of omega-6 fatty acids, it is particularly important to ingest omega-3 fatty acids as well.

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