Fish oil is well-known for its ability to combat inflammation and the latest research suggests those properties could help more mothers carry their babies to full term. Approximately one in 10 babies in the U.S. is born premature and as many as 30 percent of those are as a result of bacteria in the mouth that has traveled though the bloodstream and ended up in the placenta.
The common oral bacteria, F. nucleatum, can trigger uterine infections and cause pregnancy complications including pre-term birth and stillbirth. Researchers at Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine and Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons think some of that can be prevented by increasing intake omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil.
"This type of bacteria is ubiquitous; everybody has it in their mouths," says Yiping Han, Ph.D. "The problems start when it travels to other parts of the body."
In a report published in the journal JCI Insight, Han explained how omega-3 supplements inhibited inflammation and bacterial growth in pregnant mice which reduced preterm births, miscarriages and stillbirths.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy have been blamed for inflammation which can cause the gums to bleed. That opens the door for bacteria to leak into the bloodstream. Once there it can trigger inflammation in the placenta and cause a series of pregnancy complications.
"We knew from our previous work that uterine inflammation due to infection with this bacteria is associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, but in order to prevent those outcomes, we needed to determine exactly how these infections trigger inflammation," Han said.
Researchers injected bacteria into mice during the third trimester of pregnancy and it made its way through the bloodstream into the uterus where it triggered an inflammatory response that led to preterm births among other things.
Researchers first had to determine how the bacteria triggered inflammation and then sought to find a method of prevention. "We were looking for an anti-inflammatory agent that's safe for pregnant women to use," Han said.
That’s what led his team to look at omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and are already recommended for pregnant women to support fetal development. While the dose of omega-3 used in the experiment was higher than currently recommended for daily consumption, Han is hoping to begin clinical trials in women to determine if it will have the same ability to prevent intrauterine F. nucleatum infection.