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Scientists discover more about omega’s asthma-fighting potential

Omega-3s reduce the production of allergy and asthma-producing antibodies—but don’t work well if used with steroids, according to new research.

Researchers have learned new info about how omega-3s work—and don’t work—to fight asthma.

According to the CDC, one in 13 people have asthma and the prevalence of the disease has been increasing since the early 1980s in all age, sex and racial groups. 

Previous studies have highlighted the power of PUFAs to reduce asthma symptoms. In one 2013 study, using omegas from New Zealand green-lipped mussels, researchers found that omegas improved lung function after an asthma attack by 59 percent as well as reducing airway inflammation and use of emergency medication. Prenatal exposure to fish oil reduced the risk of wheeze and asthma in children, according to another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last December. 

In the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation—Insight, University of Rochester Medical Center scientists found that omega-3s can reduce the production of antibodies that cause allergic reactions and asthma symptoms in people with milder cases of asthma. They also found that in patients with severe asthma, the corticosteroids they take for their condition block the omegas from being helpful. The steroids can help control asthma symptoms, but do not cure the underlying disease.

Phipps and his team collected blood from patients at UR Medicine's Mary Parkes Asthma Center and isolated their B immune cells in the laboratory to explore the impact of pure omega-3-derived products on IgE, the antibodies that cause allergic and asthma symptoms and on other molecules that lead to the conditions. Most of the subjects were taking corticosteroids in either pill form or by inhaler, depending upon the severity of their asthma. The results showed that all responded to the omega-3 fatty acids to some degree, shown by a reduction in the levels of IgE antibodies. But unexpectedly, Phipps said in a release about the research, the cells from a small subset of patients who were taking oral steroids were less sensitive to the omega-3 treatment.

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