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A Healthy Diet High in Omega-3 May Protect Inner-City Asthmatic Children from Effects of Pollution

A higher intake of omega-6 fatty acids can worsen the severity of asthma and lung function in children, according to the findings of a new study. In contrast, children with higher levels of omega-3 in their diets experienced less severe asthma and fewer symptoms in response to higher levels of indoor particulate air pollution.

“There is mounting evidence that diet, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, may play a role in lung health,” said lead author Emily P. Brigham, MD, MHS, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, in a statement.

What Did The Study Find?

In their paper, which has been published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the authors point out that diets among minority, inner-city children and adolescents often do not meet national nutritional guidelines. They tend to consume the “Western” diet, characterized by higher intakes of unhealthy, processed foods and omega-6 fatty acids and lower amounts of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and other products including omega-3 fatty acids.

Additionally, the environment of children living in inner cities tends to have indoor pollutants levels, specifically particulate matter (PM), that are much higher than the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization.

In their study, Dr. Brigham and colleagues assessed the relationship between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid intake and asthma symptoms and severity in 135 children with asthma. The children were aged 5-12 years (average age: 9.5); 96 percent were black and 47 percent were girls. About a third had mild asthma, a third moderate, and a third severe. Diet, daily asthma symptoms and asthma medication use were all evaluated for one week at baseline and then again for one week at three and six months. At the same time, they also measured levels of two types of home indoor particulate pollution, which are known asthma triggers.

What’s The Takeaway For Healthcare Providers?

The analysis revealed a positive trend towards worse asthma severity and a higher intake of omega-6 fatty acids (p=0.060). When the data were adjusted for confounders, each additional gram of omega-6 intake was associated with an increased likelihood of higher asthma severity (odds ratio [OR]1.29, p=0.02).

In addition, higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with reduced effect of indoor PM2.5 on symptoms and also the percentage of circulating neutrophils, which are linked to inflammation (p<0.01). The authors also observed that harmful effects of omega-6 on the relationship between PMs and symptoms were most pronounced at lower levels of omega-3, while the beneficial effects of omega-3 were most pronounced at higher levels of omega-6.

“If there is a causal relationship between diet and asthma, a healthier diet may protect children with asthma, particularly minority children living in the inner city, from some of the harmful effects of air pollution,” Dr. Brigham said. “Among vulnerable populations, we may find that improving diet and air pollution together has the greatest impact on asthma health.”

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Intake Modifies Asthma Severity and Response to Indoor Air Pollution in Children, NCBI.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may play opposite roles in childhood asthma, ScienceDaily.

Last updated on 10/1/19.

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