New research suggests fish oil supplements could compromise infant immunity

Fish oil not good for infants

New research from UBC Okanagan shows mothers who take fish oil supplements during the breastfeeding period may put their babies' immunity at risk.

The study is the first to investigate how fish oil supplementation can impact the composition of breast milk and infant gut bacteria, and findings show it may be best to let nature take its course.

“While maternal fish oil supplementation is widely believed to support infant health, the effect on gut microbiology is relatively unknown,” says senior author Deanna Gibson, an associate professor of biology at UBC. 

“We demonstrated that supplementation corresponded with an increase in breast milk fats but a decrease in the immune-protective components of the milk. We also observed a change in infant gut microbiology—away from the bacteria normally present.”

A total of 91 women and their babies were interviewed for the study, half taking daily doses of fish oil and half not taking any supplements.

Researchers compared breast milk samples, infant stools and immune function markers between the two groups to assess whether fish oil supplements had an impact on the baby's health. 

The group of women who took fish oil supplements had a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids, but a lower ratio of protective molecules, such as antibodies, in their breast milk.

The infants of women in that group displayed a lower diversity of bacteria in their stools, meaning they may have a harder time fighting off a potential infection. 

“We showed that fish oil supplementation decreases the critically important defence factors of breast milk, one of the only sources of immunity infants get during early life,” says former doctoral student and study co-author, Candice Quin.

“We also showed that increased fatty acids in breast milk as a result of supplementation was associated with an altered composition of infant gut bacteria, both in numbers and diversity. This is a change that could result in infection risk for the infant."

For more information about this study, visit Gibson’s blog.

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