31 May 2018 --- Mothers who eat omega-rich fats from oily fish may help their children maintain a healthy weight for the entirety of their lives, a study has found. The research, published in Microbiome, found that the maternal fatty acid status persistently restructures the offspring’s microbiota and the associated metabolic homeostasis related to obesity. A diet that was higher in omega 6 fats than omega 3 contributed to a leaky gut in the kids, potentially contributing to weight gain. The findings further the call for omega 3 supplementation during pregnancy.
“The findings of this study help us understand why today so many people are obese, and how to prevent this health problem. Excessive omega 6 to omega 3 ratios in Western diets may have contributed to a trans-generational epidemic of chronic metabolic disease, especially obesity, which can partially be attributed to persistent gut microbiota disturbance,” Jing X. Kang M.d., Ph.D., Director, Laboratory for Lipid Medicine and Technology at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School tells NutritionInsight.
“Maternal n-3 PUFA supplementation [omega 3], especially during lactation, is potentially an effective and safe strategy for reducing the risk of obesity and relation conditions in children.”
The modern Western diet is typically deficient in healthy omega 3 fats, which are found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. Humans cannot produce these fats in their body and need to get them from their diet. Instead, the Western diet is often overloaded with less healthy omega-6 fats, which are found in vegetable oils and fried foods such as chips and crisps.
This imbalance in dietary fats may contribute to obesity, heart disease and other chronic diseases. However, prior to the study, little was known about how mothers’ omega 3/omega 6 ratios affected their children’s health.
In the mice study, the balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fats in the mother’s body was also found to affect the health of her pups’ guts. If a mother had more omega 6 fats in her body during pregnancy or breastfeeding, her pups’ guts were more ‘leaky,’ which led to inflammation in their blood. These babies also had more unhealthy bacteria in their intestines, which may have contributed to their weight gain.
However, if these pups were breastfed by a mother with a healthier ratio of omega 3/omega 6 fats, their guts were healthier and had more diverse bacteria. Interestingly, the effect of the mother’s fat on her babies gut health continued throughout their life until they were adults. NutritionInsight has recently reported on a study that similarly identified a link between the gut and obesity.
“We have shown that a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding may affect her babies’ weight and gut health in the long term. Furthermore, we know that your gut bacteria are extremely important for your overall health, particularly to maintain a healthy weight and gut,” says Dr. Ruairi Robertson, lead author of the study.
“These results suggest that if a mother eats more healthy fats and less unhealthy fats during pregnancy and breastfeeding, she may be able to help the right types of microbes grow in her baby’s intestines and form a healthy gut for later life,” he adds.
Omega consumption and pregnancy
Previously there have been concerns over pregnant women eating too much fish due to the potential dangers of mercury. However, this is only a concern for certain types of fish, particularly predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and certain types of tuna.
Current recommendations suggest that everyone, including pregnant women, eat 2 portions of oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, herring) per week.
“The benefits of omega 3s from oily fish far outweigh the risks of mercury, if kept to two to three portions per week” says Catherine Stanton, Principal Investigator at Teagasc and APC Microbiome Ireland.
“However, most important is the balance of fats. Aim to get enough omega 3s from oily fish, nuts and seeds whilst at the same time reducing omega 6 intake from vegetable oils and fried foods.”
Omega 3 supplements are commonly marketed in the pre and post-natal markets. Innova Market Insight data notes that omega 3 launches with a particular pregnancy or breastfeeding positioning are increasing, with a 34 percent annual growth between 2013 and 2017 being measured.
Health benefits beyond a healthy gut in offspring include the potential reduction of allergies in offspring. Furthermore, a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy in smokers could have protective effects against preterm delivery and low birth weight in women who have had previous preterm deliveries.
You can read more about omega 3 – especially regarding novel delivery forms and innovations – in a report by NutritionInsight here.
By Laxmi Haigh
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