Last updated April 5, 2017 at 9:52 am
While the myriad claims of benefits from taking fish oil to boost intake of omega-3 fatty acids have been touted for decades, a new study into premature infants in South Australia seriously questions if there are any benefits at all.
The study, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, reports on a collaboration between 13 major hospitals in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore that involved over 1200 premature babies born more than 11 weeks early. This is the largest study of its type so far conducted.
The Adelaide-based research investigated if supplementation with high-dose omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) would reduce the incidence of chronic lung disease.
The research focused on premature babies because they need extra oxygen and help with their breathing which can result in lung inflammation causing chronic lung disease and poor long-term health. Previous studies have shown that DHA has anti-inflammatory properties and very early preterm babies are known to have low levels of DHA which continue to fall after birth.
Earlier studies suggested that chronic lung disease could be reduced in preterm babies if the amount of DHA in their diet was increased to match what the baby would have received from the placenta if they weren’t born early.
This study gave preterm infants either a supplement providing extra DHA, or a control supplement without DHA. Surprisingly they found that, the DHA supplementation did not reduce the risk of chronic lung disease, it actually increased the risk to a small extent.
Dr Carmel Collins from SAHMRI’s Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children theme said “Our results suggest that additional supplementation of DHA is unnecessary and reinforces the need to thoroughly test all nutritional interventions designed for babies.”
- Link to the original research article: nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1611942