Infants in a study from Emory University whose moms took a daily supplement during pregnancy that contained DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, came down with colds less often and for shorter periods of time than babies whose mothers had skipped prenatal DHA.
In the study of 800 mothers and children living in Mexico, some moms-to-be began taking DHA daily starting in the second trimester. When their babies were born, at age 1 month, infants experienced shorter durations of cough, phlegm, and wheezing when they caught colds, though they had a longer duration of rash. At age 3 months, the infants in the DHA group spent 14 percent less time sick with colds. At 6 months of age, infants in the DHA group experienced shorter fever, nasal secretion, difficulty breathing and rash, though longer duration of vomiting. Benefits of DHA seemed to end after 6 months.
So is DHA a cure for the common cold—in newborns, at least? No, the study's lead author, Dr. Usha Ramakrishnan, a researcher in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, is quick to note. But, she does think that popping fish oil supplements during pregnancy might just pay off with improved newborn health. "I wouldn't want to overplay the benefits, but the findings do suggest some benefits early in life," Dr. Ramakrishnan tells Time magazine's HealthLand. "This is one of the first studies to look at nutritional interventions during pregnancy and immune function of newborns later on."
Is a fish oil supplement for you? Because fish oil/DHA supplements are first purified to remove toxins, there isn't the same mercury concern that accompanies eating fish. As Dr. Ramakrishnan points out, the amount of fish oil the mothers in the study took, which is slightly more than the recommended daily intake of 200mg, amounts to about two to three fish meals a week. Want to give DHA a try? Remember to first run your plans by your doctor or midwife.