Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Asthma

A few years ago, scientists reported on the preliminary results of studies into the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on asthma. The earliest reports seemed to suggest that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids could help reduce the incidences of asthma, which is caused in part by the inflammation of bronchial muscles. Since then, a number of other studies have been done using different omega-3 fatty acids with different types of asthma under numerous conditions.

The Canadian Asthma Prevention Institute offers a good overview of why good nutrition is important in treating asthma. Essentially, many of the drugs that are used to treat both chronic and acute asthma are anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids. By reducing the inflammation of bronchial muscles and airways, steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs relieve symptoms like chest tightness and wheezing and difficulty breathing. Nutritional specialists point out that by supplying your body with the nutrients that it needs to fight inflammation on its own, you can reduce and even eliminate the need for steroid medications.

At a minimum, to mount a good defense against the inflammation that accompanies and causes asthma, your body needs sufficient essential fatty acids (both omega-3 and omega-6, in the right balance), vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B3, zinc and magnesium. Because one of the biggest lacks in the typical American diet is omega-3 fatty acids, it makes sense to increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acid in your diet to help your body fight inflammation. Over the course of the last ten years, there have been hundreds of studies that looked at the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on inflammation. A recent study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health took a look at 31 reports about 26 different research projects on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on asthma prevention and relief. The results offered some insight into the way that nutrition can help in the treatment of chronic conditions like asthma.

The assessment of current research focused on seven outcomes/questions regarding the effectiveness of increasing dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids on asthma. The researchers correlated all the data, and applied it to each of the questions, then presented their final conclusion.

1. Does omega-3 fatty acid improve the breathing of people with asthma?
2. Is omega-3’s usefulness in fighting asthma dependent on other factors?
3. Can omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation related to asthma?
4. Are omega-3 fatty acids effective in primary prevention of asthma?
5. Can omega-3 fatty acids slow the progress of asthma?
6. Are there any adverse side effects related to using omega-3 fatty acids to treat asthma?
7. Are there adverse side effects in using omega-3 fatty acids to treat asthma in specific populations?

The researchers concluded that there has not been enough research done to give a definitive answer to any of those questions – with one exception. None of the studies reported any adverse side effects to the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation to treat asthma. So far, the research studying the effects of omega-3 fatty acid on asthma has been too little and not general enough to decide whether it’s an effective treatment or not, but it’s certain that it doesn’t hurt to try it – and it just might help.