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Keywords:

  • allergy;
  • breast milk;
  • cytokines;
  • docosahexaenoic acid;
  • fish oil;
  • infants;
  • long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids;
  • pregnancy

Summary

Background Breast milk contains many immunomodulatory factors (soluble CD14 (sCD14), IgA and cytokines) with the potential to influence infant immune development.

Objective To determine if changes in breast milk ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3 PUFA) composition as a result of maternal dietary fish oil supplementation during pregnancy can modify levels of these immunological parameters in breast milk.

Method In a randomized controlled trial, 83 atopic women received either 4 g fish oil capsules (containing 3.7 g n-3 PUFA) (n=40) or 4 g olive oil capsules (n=43) from 20 weeks gestation until delivery. Breast milk was collected 3 days post-partum and fatty acids were analysed by gas liquid chromatography and IgA, sCD14 and cytokines (IL-5, IL-6, IL-10, TNF-α and IFN-γ) were quantitated by ELISA or time resolved fluorescence (TRF).

Results ω-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5n-3) levels were significantly higher (P<0.001) in breast milk from women supplemented with fish oil (n=33, DHA mean 1.15%, SD 0.47% and EPA mean 0.16%, SD 0.07%) than in samples from the control group (n=40, DHA mean 0.50%, SD 0.17% and EPA mean 0.05%, SD 0.02%). Breast milk arachidonic acid (AA; 20:4n-6) levels were significantly lower (P=0.045) in the fish oil group (mean 0.55%, SD 0.12%) compared with the control group (mean 0.61%, SD 0.14%). Breast milk IgA was positively correlated with DHA (P=0.046) and 22:5n-3 (P=0.003), but inversely correlated with linoleic acid (LA; 18:2n-6) (P=0.034). Levels of sCD14 were also positively correlated with 22:5n-3 (P=0.009). Cytokines involved in IgA synthesis (IL-10 and IL-6) were also significantly correlated with both IgA and n-3 PUFA levels, although there were no differences in the levels of breast milk IgA, sCD14 or cytokines between study groups.

Conclusion Supplementation with fish oil during pregnancy significantly alters early post-partum breast milk fatty acid composition. ω-3 PUFA levels were positively associated with IgA and sCD14 levels, suggesting a relationship between fatty acid status and mucosal immune function.