Fish Oil Helps Teensy Hearts

Heart disease risk for babies with poor fetal growth is reduced with fish oil supplements

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(RxWiki News) Babies unable to grow to the size they're genetically supposed to reach suffer from intrauterine growth restriction, a risk factor for future cardiovascular problems.

Newborns with this condition, also called impaired fetal growth, are different from those who are simply underweight or small for their gestational age. They're unable to grow the way they should in the mother's womb.

The condition has been associated with future hardening of the arteries, but taking fish oil supplements appears to reduce that risk.

"Ask your OB/GYN if your baby should take fish oil supplements."

Michael Skilton, Ph.D., of the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders at the University of Sydney in Australia, led a study looking at how fish oil supplements, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, might help these babies.

Researchers recruited 616 children before they were born and split them into two groups to receive a daily supplement, starting at six months old or when they began bottle-feeding.

One group received a supplement with 500 mg of fish oil mixed with a canola-based cooking oil to test the effects of daily omega-3 supplementation. The other group, a control group, took a supplement of 500 mg of sunflower oil mixed with cooking oil containing omega-6 fatty acids.

The children took the supplements until they were five years old, and then they were examined at age 8 for their carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT). CIMT is an ultrasound test used to measure atherosclerosis, or artery hardening, before outward symptoms are evident.

The researchers focused on children whose birth weight was below the 90th percentile, which included 187 kids receiving the fish oil and 176 kids in the control group.

They found that the children in the control group had greater thickening of the arteries the smaller their fetal growth was. But the children taking the omega-3 supplements of fish oil didn't show this trend.

For every kilogram of a baby's birth weight, he or she had 0.041mm less thickening of the arteries if the child took the fish oil supplements.

The researchers concluded that a dietary supplement of omega-3 fatty acids, gained through fish oil, can help prevent or decrease hardening of the arteries if a child takes it over the first five years of his or her life.

The benefits, when calculated out, translate to about a 5 to 7 percent lower risk of heart attack and a 6 to 8 percent lower risk of stroke for each kilogram the baby has below the appropriate weight. Normally each kilogram below weight a baby is equals 10 to 20 percent greater risk of heart disease.

A wide range of factors can cause impaired fetal growth, including being part of multiples (twins or triplets), pregnancy at high altitudes, problems with the placenta, pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) or diseases transferred from the mother to the baby in the womb, such as rubella.

Additionally, mothers who smoke, have poor nutrition, drink alcohol or do drugs while pregnant, have heart or kidney disease or have a blood clotting disorder are more likely to have babies with impaired fetal growth.

Atherosclerosis occurs when fat and other substances build up along the walls of the arteries and harden them with the build-up. It's a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, among other problems.

Skilton's study appeared online February 20 in the journal Pediatrics. The study was funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Asthma at the Children's Hospital at Westmead and grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia Program.

The supplements used in the study were made and provided by Nu-Mega Ingredients Pty Ltd in Brisbane, Australia, and the cooking oil was provided at a reduced cost by Goodman Fielder Foods in Australia.

Skilton's former former employer, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, receives financial support from Swisse Vitamins in Melbourne, which market fish oil supplements.

Last Updated:
February 25, 2012