Omega-3 fatty acids may prevent pregnancy complications, including preterm birth, neonatal death, and stillbirth, when the complications are caused by a common oral bacteria F. nucleatum, according to research published today in the journal JCI Insight.
F. nucleatum is a type of bacteria is present in everybody in mouth.In pregnant women, the placenta is at particular risk for infection with it. Bleeding gums create an entryway for bacteria to leak into the bloodstream. Once in the circulatory system, the bacteria can migrate to the placenta and cause inflammation there, sometimes triggering miscarriage or stillbirth.
Dr Yiping Han, PhD, senior author of the new study and co-researchers using a mouse model, injected the bacteria into mice during their third trimester of pregnancy. As predicted, the bacteria invaded the animals’ uteruses.
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The researchers saw that the bacteria triggered an inflammatory response in endothelial cells within the mouse placenta, leading to preterm births.
The inflammatory response only occurred when a specific immune protein was present in the mothers’ endothelial cells. In pregnant mice lacking this protein, fewer fetuses died, suggesting that inflammation ignited by this protein is critical for causing preterm births.
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After determining how the bacteria trigger inflammation within the placenta, Han’s team used cultured cells to look for ways to inhibit those mechanisms.
“We were looking for an anti-inflammatory agent that’s safe for pregnant women to use,” says Han.
Because omega-3 fatty acid supplements are widely used to reduce inflammation in chronic inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Han considered fish oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These supplements are already recommended for pregnant women to support fetal development.
The experiments showed that supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids also inhibited inflammation and bacterial growth in pregnant mice, and reduced preterm births, miscarriages, and stillbirths.
Approximately one in 10 U.S. infants are born before term. Between 10 and 30 percent of preterm births have been attributed to uterine infections with a type of bacteria commonly found in the mouth, F. nucleatum.
This research identifies a potential prophylactic treatment for pregnant women to lower the risk of adverse outcomes including stillbirth
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