For good or ill, everything mothers do during pregnancy affects the health of their babies. That includes taking daily supplements, according to a new study that found that children born to mothers who take fish-oil pills while pregnant may benefit from an early boost in immunity.
Researchers randomly assigned about 1,000 pregnant women to take daily supplements of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a major omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil, or a placebo. The babies' health was evaluated when they were 1 month, 3 months and 6 months old. At every stage, babies whose mothers took fish-oil pills were healthier than those whose mothers didn't. At 1 month, they were 24% less likely to have cold symptoms such as coughing, nasal congestion and runny noses. At 3 months, they were 14% less likely to be sick. By 6 months, infants whose mothers had taken DHA developed cold symptoms as often as babies whose moms took the placebo, but their colds didn't last as long.
How does prenatal fish oil affect a baby's ability to fight off sniffles? A developing fetus's immune system relies on cues from its environment--in this case, the womb--to start building the cellular defense system that recognizes and kills bacteria and viruses. Although the mechanism is unclear, the DHA seems to give the fetus a head start. In the study, expectant mothers got 400 mg of DHA daily, starting at 18 to 22 weeks, which is significantly more than the 200 mg that the average American woman consumes in a day.
Sources: Pediatrics; Journal of Family Practice; Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine; U.N.
A Big Win for Stem Cells
Stem-cell science got a legal boost when a U.S. district court judge threw out a lawsuit that sought to halt government funding of studies involving embryonic stem cells. Many scientists believe those cells will someday help generate treatments for conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and spinal-cord injury.
Colonic? Don't Bother
The colon "cleanse," long touted as a way to detoxify the body and improve well-being, doesn't actually have any health benefits, a new study finds.
After reviewing 20 studies on colon cleansing--which may be performed at home or at day spas using water-based irrigation methods, herbal supplements or other laxatives--scientists reported that the procedure doesn't do much for health but can lead to serious side effects like a punctured colon, bacterial infections, diarrhea, vomiting and even kidney failure.
The claims of spas and wellness centers that colonic detox improves energy or boosts immune function are not based in science, the authors of the study say, noting that the only medical reason to have a colon cleanse is to clear out the intestines before an imaging exam like a colonoscopy or to treat constipation.
The results confirm what has always been true about your colon: it may be a haven for bugs and toxins, but that's where they're supposed to be. Healthy people don't need a cleanse.
Don't Stand Near the Microwave!