Omega-3 fats may help to control asthma

Asthma is a condition characterised by constriction in the airways of the lungs. Inflammation in the airways is another common feature, and this may also be accompanied by the presence of some mucus that can obviously add to the obstruction of airflow in and out of the lungs. Common symptoms of active asthma include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.

There are many potential triggers for asthma. Some of these can come from within the body (e.g. food), while others can come from the outside. Outside triggers include ‘airborne’ agents such as pollen, mold spores, pollution, and the faeces of the house dust mite.

I was interested to read about a nutritionally oriented approach that was tried in a group of house dust mite-sensitive asthmatics. The treatment under test was a blend of omega-3 fats at a dose of 0.6 g per day. The study lasted just 5 weeks. In the last two weeks of the study, the participants were challenged each day with house dust mite ‘allergen’.

The study participants were monitored with a number of tests including the amount of the gas nitric oxide they exhaled. This test provides an indirect measure of the amount of inflammation in the airways. Despite the relatively low dose of omega-3 used in this study and quite short duration, the active treatment (compared to placebo) led to significantly lower levels of exhaled nitric oxide. In other words, taking omega-3 appeared to reduced inflammation in the lungs of these asthmatics. This is consistent with prior knowledge that we have regarding omega-3 fats in relation to their natural anti-inflammatory properties.

Allergic reactions to house dust mite faeces (or other allergens) typically involve white blood cells known eosinophils. Eosinophil counts in the blood generally go up during allergic responses in the body. The researchers found that eosinophil counts were lower in those taking the omgea-3 supplement compared to those taking placebo. Other markers of disease activity were lower also.

What this study suggests is that omega-3 supplementation may be beneficial for asthmatics, particularly those suffering from allergic asthma.

While interesting and relevant, I think, what this study does not tell us is if omega-3 supplementation actually helped the symptoms of the asthmatics being tested. However, there has previously some work that suggests omega-3 supplementation may help in this regard. In a study published in 2000, asthmatic children were treated with a mix of EPA and DHA (two omega-3 fats found in oily fish) or placebo (olive oil) for a period of 10 months. The total daily dose of omega-3 fats was in the order of 30 mg per kg per day.

Omega-3 supplementation led to a significant reduction in asthma symptom scores. This study provides at least some evidence that omega-3 supplementation has the potential to control asthma.

References:

1. Schubert R, et al. Effect of n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Asthma after Low-Dose Allergen Challenge. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2008;148(4):321-329.

2. Nagakura et al. Dietary supplementation with fish oil rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with bronchial asthma. Eur Resp J. 2000;16(5):861-865.

5 Responses to Omega-3 fats may help to control asthma

  1. Paul Anderson 3 December 2008 at 5:24 pm #

    There seems to be quite a lot of evidence that omega 3 fats are good for health – much more effective than taking statins, and without the side effects.

    Presumably they are called essential fats for a reason.

    I am amased by how much dietary advice seems to overlook the necessity of getting adequate amounts of fat soluable vitamins, essential amino acids and the necessary amounts of minerals. It seems to me that eating meat, oily fish and green leafy vegetabels gets you pretty much everything you need, whereas grains, sugars, etc, give you a much poorer source of nutrition.

    Nutrition seems very much akin to religion, with most people worshipping at the high carbohydrate low fat altar – and suffering less than optimal health as a consequence.

    You only need to look at an old film to see that people were so much slimmer in the 50′s and 60′s when their consumption of meat, fat, lard, etc was so much higher than it is today.

    Paul Anderson.

  2. Jackie Bushell 5 December 2008 at 8:23 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more, Paul. Have you read Weston Price yet? If not, I heartily recommend it. His works have certainly made a lasting impression on me, and hubby too.

    There is a copy of Weston Price’s ‘Nutrition and Physical Degeneration’ on the Project Gutenberg Australia website http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200251h.html

    Jackie

  3. Paul Anderson 7 December 2008 at 6:52 pm #

    Thanks for the link Jackie.

    I am familiar with the nature of Western Price’s works but I haven’t read them in detail, and I really think I should.

    Hiteherto I have been seeking to move away from sugar and starches, and to eat a low carb diet. More recently I have began to appreciate that its not just the type of macro nutirent but the quality of the food that is also important. So more grass fed and less grain fed meat, eating fattier cuts and organ meats, and avoiding mass produced foods and pesticides now feature as aspirations.

    Exposure to sunlight and just simply enjoying the outdoors are also things I now seek to prioritise in my life

    Paul.

  4. Dawn 18 July 2009 at 9:38 pm #

    I like Dr. Schwarzbein’s balance program with the carbs being balanced every time with protein and fats, also being non starchy carbs and not grains etc. I haven’t got the patience to follow any diets perse but I do believe in balance and organic eating of meat proteins fed on what they were designed to feed on not something disgusting from an agrigultural supplier.

    I have damaged my body I believe trying, low carb, low fat and low alsorts diets over time and now I have autoimmune disease. Can’t do with anything complicated to follow, too tired and poorly.

    I think the balance is the best way.

    I have signed up for Dr Briffas newsletter and I am waiting patiently :)
    Dawnx

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