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Taking DHA while pregnant helps newborns fight colds

August 1, 2011

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Infants whose mothers take a supplement containing docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, during pregnancy could be more successful at fighting off colds, researchers found. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in certain ocean fish and other sources and is important in immune function.

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the March of Dimes Foundation recruited 851 pregnant women in Mexico, about half of whom were randomly selected to receive daily DHA supplements of 400 milligrams starting no more than 22 weeks into the pregnancy. The rest received a placebo.

The researchers found that infants whose mothers took the supplement had fewer cold symptoms, including cough, phlegm, and wheezing, in their first month. At three months, these infants spent 14 percent less time ill. And after six months, the duration of various symptoms, including difficulty breathing and fever, was less. Duration of some symptoms, including rash within the first month, increased among the supplement group.

The authors suggested that DHA intake could help infants fight off infections that, in many places, contribute to childhood deaths.

BOTTOM LINE: Mothers who take a supplement of DHA could help their babies fend off colds and infection in the first months of life.

CAUTIONS: While the researchers said their results could be generalized to other areas of the world, the study population experienced lower rates of infectious disease than are reported in many developing countries.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Pediatrics, September 2011

Studies: Programs can reduce readmissions Various randomized controlled studies have found that coaching patients as they transition from a hospital stay to their home or another facility can keep them from returning to the hospital soon after they are discharged.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services paid for studies in 14 states to look at the effects of such programs in broader patient populations.

Researchers recruited patients from six Rhode Island hospitals, where the average readmission rate within 30 days was 21.1 percent. They offered patients visits from a health coach in the hospital and at home and two follow-up phone calls. The coach focused on helping patients to understand their condition, recognize problem signs, and communicate with their doctors.

Of the 1,888 patients approached, 1,042 enrolled and 257 had a home visit. For those who received some intervention, the rate of readmission was 12.8 percent, compared with 20 percent for those patients who were never approached.

A second study in the same journal found that a transition program reduced readmissions by 48 percent at Baylor Medical Center at Garland in Texas. An accompanying editorial said the two studies provided reassurance that such programs can work in real-world settings.

BOTTOM LINE: Two studies confirm that programs providing transitional support for patients are effective at preventing hospital readmissions.

CAUTIONS: Researchers in the Rhode Island study noted that work is needed to understand why 846 patients who were offered the coaching declined.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Archives of Internal Medicine, July 25

CHELSEA CONABOY

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com.

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