Asthma is one of the most common illnesses, affecting 13% of Canadians aged 5 to 19 years. Since the body uses the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) found in fish to produce anti-inflammatory compounds, it is believed that fish oils can benefit asthma sufferers. In fact, studies show that in populations eating large amounts of fish, asthma rates are lower.
In a recent study, researchers from Indiana University found that fish oils could significantly reduce the severity of exercise-induced asthma (exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, or EIB). EIB occurs in 80 to 90% of people with asthma and in about 11% of people without asthma.
In this double-blind study, 10 elite athletes with EIB and 10 elite athletes without EIB received either fish oils or a placebo daily for three weeks. When measured at 15 minutes after exercise, test results showed only a 3% decrease in pulmonary function for the fish oils group, compared to a 14.5% decrease for the placebo group. Pro-inflammatory factors were also decreased significantly for the fish oils group compared to placebo.
The researchers concluded that fish oils have a protective effect in reducing EIB in elite athletes, and attributed this effect to the anti-inflammatory properties of the fish oil.
Sources: Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71(Suppl 1):S393-S396; Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2003 Nov 15;168(10):1181-9