Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Asthma

man with asthma
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Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids sometimes used in alternative medicine for the treatment of asthma. Available in dietary supplement form, these essential fatty acids are found naturally in foods like oily fish and flaxseeds. It's thought that omega-3 fatty acids may help control asthma by reducing inflammation.

Why Do People Use Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Asthma Control?

Asthma is marked by inflammation in the airways responsible for carrying air in and out of your lungs.

This inflammation is chronic and can worsen in response to certain triggers (such as exercise, stress, and exposure to tobacco smoke and other environmental pollutants), which in turn sets off symptoms like chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Since omega-3 fatty acids offer anti-inflammatory benefits, following a diet high in omega-3-rich foods or consuming omega-3 fatty acids in dietary supplement form is thought to reduce airway inflammation and alleviate asthma symptoms.

It’s also said that increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids may help counteract the effects of omega-6 fatty acids on airway inflammation in people with asthma. Found in foods like poultry, nuts, and vegetable oils, certain types of omega-6 fatty acids are believed to promote inflammation when they are out of balance with omega-3 fatty acid consumption. Some research suggests that the growing incidence of asthma in the U.S. may be associated with the high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids found in the standard American diet.

The Science Behind Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Asthma

So far, most of the research on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in asthma patients has focused on children. This research includes a small study published in the European Respiratory Journal in 2000, in which 29 children with asthma were given capsules containing either olive oil or a combination of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil).

After 10 months of treatment, children given omega-3 fatty acids showed a greater decrease in asthma symptoms (compared to those given the olive oil capsules). 

In addition, there's some evidence that children born to women who take omega-3 fatty acid supplements while pregnant may have a decreased risk of developing asthma. In a research review published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2011, scientists analyzed five previously published clinical trials (with a total of 949 participants) and found that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy reduced the prevalence of childhood asthma.

While research on the use of omega-3 fatty acids among adults with asthma is limited, one small study published in the journal Chest in 2014 indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may not be effective as a short-term asthma treatment. For the study, 23 asthmatic adults took either omega-3 fatty acid supplements or a placebo every day for three weeks. At the study's end, researchers found no difference between the two groups in terms of the participants' bronchial hyperresponsiveness (a measure of airway sensitivity).

Using Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Asthma Control?

Although there isn't a great deal of scientific support for omega-3 fatty acids' effectiveness in asthma management, increasing your omega-3 intake may help enhance your overall health. For example, research shows that regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and protect against heart disease.

For more help in controlling your asthma, it's important to avoid triggers, exercise regularly, watch your weight, and keep your stress in check. Practicing breathing techniques, undergoing acupuncture, following an anti-inflammatory diet rich in antioxidants, and/or using natural remedies like butterbur and bromelain may also be beneficial for some adults with asthma. 

It should be noted that improper treatment of asthma (including avoiding or delaying conventional medical care) may lead to a number of serious complications, such as permanent narrowing of the bronchial tubes. To lower your risk of such complications, consult your physician for guidance before incorporating omega-3 fatty acids (or any other type of alternative treatment) into your asthma management plan. 


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Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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