Medically reviewed by: Eric Venn-Watson, M.D.
Asthma sufferers know the signs of an asthma attack. The shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and feeling of inability to breathe are the hallmark signs it’s time to grab the inhaler.
While most asthmatics are able to control their asthma with prescription medication, lifestyle changes, and emergency inhalers, there’s promising new research that a change in diet may also help sufferers better control their symptoms.
Fatty acids, like the kind found in fish oil supplements, may be able to help asthma sufferers experience less symptoms caused by inflammation. We’ll talk about what fatty acids are, why our bodies need them, and how they can help fight asthma.
Intro Into Fatty Acids
We’ve spent an entire generation being told fat is bad. What started as an effort to decrease the number of heart disease patients in the 70s led to dietary guidelines that haven’t been changed since. The message was clear: eat less fat to stay healthy.
The result was an onslaught of low-fat products, including skim milk, low-fat cheese, and butter alternatives, like margarine. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it quite right. By the late 1990s our health was steadily declining:
Clearly, avoiding all fat wasn’t the answer.† More than 90 years ago, a husband and wife team discovered that some fatty acids, particularly omega-3 and omega-6, were essential to help our bodies function properly.
Essential means that our bodies need them for optimal health, but cannot make them on their own. This means we have to get them elsewhere, either from our diets or by taking them in supplement form.
When the dietary guidelines changed in the 70s, our intake of these essential fatty acids began to decrease, and our overall health as a nation declined. Now that we know better, we can do better.
Here are the basics you should know about omega-3 and omega-6.
Omega-3 fatty acids are long-chain, polyunsaturated fatty acids that your body needs to maintain good health. There are two main types of omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA. These acids are mainly found in certain types of fish, which is why fish oil supplements are so popular.
DHA is especially important in the stages of early infant development. It’s a crucial component of good eye and brain health.
Here are the benefits of including more omega-3 in your diet.
As vital a role as omega-3 plays in our bodies, omega-6 is also important, but there’s a caveat.
Omega-6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fatty acids responsible for helping keep hair and skin healthy, supporting bone health, and promoting healthy metabolism. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in foods like soybeans, corn, vegetable oils, and some meats.
However, the average western diet contains much more omega-6 than omega-3, and too much omega-6 has a negative impact on our health.
Too much omega-6 can lead to:
While it’s important your body gets enough omega-6, chances are you’re getting much more of it than you actually need.
How Fish Oil Helps Fight Asthma
Omega-3 is much less abundant in the western diet than omega-6, which is why fish oil supplements have skyrocketed into popularity. Omega-3 has also been studied for its potential effects on patients who suffer from asthma.
In studies conducted on asthma patients who regularly relied on inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), a higher circulation of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood was shown to decrease their need for their inhalers and help them better control their asthma symptoms.
Additionally, for patients with uncontrolled asthma, higher circulating levels of omega-3 in the body appeared to reduce asthma symptoms and help the patient obtain control of their asthma symptoms.
This is phenomenal news for asthma sufferers, and could mean that taking a fish oil supplement could help them experience fewer asthma attacks and more manageable symptoms.
Side Effects of Fish Oil Supplements
Taking a fish oil supplement may help asthma sufferers experience less symptoms, but the amount of fish oil needed to reduce symptoms may be higher than they’d like to take.
While fish oil supplements are generally safe and well tolerated by most, they do come with some unpleasant side effects that may make them a non-viable option for some individuals.
The most prevalent side effect of taking a fish oil supplement is a strong fishy aftertaste, fish “burps,” and fishy smelling breath. While this may seem a little comical, consider that to keep the omega-3 levels circulating at a high enough threshold to help reduce asthma symptoms, you’ll definitely be experiencing these side effects long term.
Less common side effects include stomach upset, loose stool, and nosebleeds.
If taking fish oil alone doesn’t seem like the solution you’d hoped for to help your asthma, we’ve got some new research that you’ll find encouraging.
The Latest Research, and Pentadecanoic Acid
Much in the same way that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids were discovered, a husband and wife team has recently discovered another fatty acid that a growing body of research supports is the first essential fatty acid to be discovered since the original husband and wife duo almost a century ago.
Pentadecanoic acid (also known as C15:0) is an odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that has been researched in populations of bottlenose dolphins for decades. Researchers noticed that dolphins that consumed more C15:0 in their diet were less likely to have chronic conditions compared dolphins with lower C15:0 levels.
This led them to study the effects of this fatty acid on the human body. As it turns out, C15:0 has the ability to strengthen our overall health and improve health conditions that can cause us to experience illness.
How does it work? It starts with your cells.
Your entire body is made up of cells, and these cells determine how your body functions. If your cells are functioning properly, so are your organs and systems. When your cells begin to lose their function, your organ function begins to decline.
Here’s how C15:0 can help:†*
Because C15:0 is found mostly in full fat dairy products, you may not be getting nearly enough of it in your diet. Remember, we’ve all been eating less fat for decades. Just like omega-3, our diets often lack C15:0, making it necessary for us to take it in supplement form.
Once a day C15:0 supplements can help improve your health, and current science supports that C15:0 may help you better manage your asthma symptoms. The best part? C15:0 supplements typically have no fishy aftertaste, and are generally well tolerated.
In combination with proper diet, regular exercise, and a healthy lifestyle, taking in more C15:0 can help you have better control of your asthma symptoms, and support your health from a cellular level.
The Essential Fatty Acids Omega-6 and Omega-3: From Their Discovery to Their Use in Therapy | NCBI
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Depression: Scientific Evidence and Biological Mechanisms | NCBI
8 Food Ingredients That Can Cause Inflammation | Arthritis.org
A Higher Omega-3 Index Linked to Better Asthma Control | Omegaquant
STEPHANIE VENN-WATSON, dvm, mph
Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson is a veterinary epidemiologist dedicated to improving both human and animal health. Before co-founding Seraphina Therapeutics and Epitracker, Inc,. she worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense. Dr. Venn-Watson has over 70 peer-reviewed scientific publications and is an inventor on 40+ patents. Her dedication to discovering natural compounds to improve global health has been featured in/on Forbes, NPR Science Friday, PBS, National Geographic, BBC, and more.
ERIC VENN-WATSON, MD
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson is a physician, US Navy veteran and serial entrepreneur. Prior to Seraphina Therapeutics, Eric founded multiple companies in therapeutics discovery, healthcare analytics, and medical device industries as well as working in leadership roles in several life science companies.