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Your Environment. Your Health.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 May Play Opposite Roles in Asthma

Nadia Nathalie Hansel, M.D.
Johns Hopkins University
P50ES018176, P01ES018176, P50ES015903, K24ES021098

An NIEHS-funded study found that children with more dietary omega-3 fatty acids, present in foods such as salmon, had less severe asthma and fewer symptoms triggered by indoor air pollution. The same study showed an opposite effect for high levels of dietary omega-6 fatty acids, found in corn oil and other foods, which were linked to more severe asthma and more symptoms.

The researchers studied 135 children with asthma in Baltimore. Asthma severity and lung function were assessed at the beginning of the study, at three months, and at six months. At each time point, the researchers captured week-long average home indoor concentrations of air particulate matter, dietary intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and information on daily asthma symptoms and inhaler use.

The researchers found that for each additional gram of omega-6 in their reported diet, children had 29% higher odds of being in a more severe asthma category. With each 0.1-gram increase in omega-3 fatty acid intake, researchers saw 3–4% lower odds of daytime asthma symptoms. Overall, children who ate more omega-3 were less likely to have symptoms even at the same level of air pollution exposure.

According to the authors, the study suggests that the role of diet is important in understanding environmental exposures, and that children may be protected from some of the harmful effects of indoor air pollution if they eat more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and less foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids.

Citation: Brigham EP, Woo H, McCormack M, Rice J, Koehler K, Vulcain T, Wu T, Koch A, Sharma S, Kolahdooz F, Bose S, Hanson C, Romero K, Diette G, Hansel NN. 2019. Omega-3 and omega-6 intake modifies asthma severity and response to indoor air pollution in children. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 199(12):1478-1486

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