In mice experiments, researchers investigated whether omega-3 fatty acids could prevent miscarriage or other complications due to uterine infection.
Infections in the uterus are an important cause of complications in pregnancy including miscarriage, preterm birth, and stillbirth. Uterine infections linked to Fusobacterium nucleatum, a type of bacteria normally present in the mouth, are thought to cause between 10-30% of preterm births.
Uterine infections with oral bacteria can cause pregnancy complications
Hormonal changes in pregnancy can lead to poor gum health. Bleeding gums allow the oral bacteria F. nucleatum to enter the bloodstream and travel to the placenta where it can cause inflammation. This can sometimes trigger a miscarriage or stillbirth.
In mice experiments, researchers at Columbia University in New York, United States investigated whether omega-3 fatty acid supplements could inhibit the placental inflammation caused by F. nucleatum and therefore prevent miscarriage. They recently published their findings in JCI Insight.
In a series of experiments, the researchers injected F. nucleatum bacteria into pregnant mice during the later part of their pregnancy. They found that the bacteria travelled to the mice uteruses and triggered an inflammatory response in the placenta, leading to preterm births and other complications. The researchers were also able to show that this inflammation was linked to a specific immune protein.
Omega-3 supplements inhibited placental inflammation and prevented miscarriage
The research team then wanted to find a way to inhibit the placenta inflammation caused by F. nucleatum. Since omega-3 supplements are used to reduce inflammation in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers thought they could be a potential candidate for reducing placental inflammation. In a further series of mice experiments, the researchers showed that omega-3 supplements inhibited placenta inflammation and bacterial growth of F. nucleatum in pregnant mice, reducing preterm births, miscarriages and stillbirths.
Clinical trials needed to solidify findings in pregnant women
“We were looking for an anti-inflammatory agent that’s safe for pregnant women to use,” said Professor Yiping Han, the lead researcher. Omega-3 supplements are already recommended for pregnant women to support fetal development.
Following these preliminary mice experiments, Professor Han’s team is hoping to conduct clinical trials in pregnant women to test whether omega-3 supplements can help to prevent miscarriages and other complications linked to uterine infections.
Written by Julie McShane, Medical Writer
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- Garcia-So J, Yang X, Rubinstein MR, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids suppress Fusobacterium nucleatum-induced placental inflammation originating from maternal endotherlial cells. JCI Insight 2019;4(2):e125436. Doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.125436.
- Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Press Release. “Could omega-3 fatty acids help prevent miscarriages? 7 Feb 2019.