It's No Fish Tale -- Cod Liver Oil Works

Kids who take it have fewer ear infections, study finds

FRIDAY, July 12, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- It looks like Grandma may have been right again: Cod liver oil appears to help reduce the number of ear infections in children.

A new study has found a combination of cod liver oil and a multivitamin containing the trace mineral selenium reduced by more than 12 percent the number of days children were on antibiotics for ear infections.

Ear infections, also known as otitis media, are a common childhood problem. Repeated infections can cause problems with hearing and speech, according to the study. Because in the past children with recurrent infections were often treated with antibiotics, otitis media is believed to have contributed to the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, report the researchers.

This pilot study, which appears in the current issue of the Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology, was conducted in two parts, according to lead researcher Dr. Linda Linday, a pediatrician at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

For the first part, the researchers took blood samples from 44 children between the ages of 1 and 10 who were having surgery. Thirty-nine of the children were having tubes put in their ears because of recurrent ear infections; the other five were having eye muscle surgery or other ear, nose and throat surgery.

The majority of the children had lower levels of three important chemicals than the average adult does. The first was an omega-3 fatty acid that helps decrease inflammation in the body. Second, was vitamin A, which is considered an "anti-infective" vitamin, Linday says. Finally, they also had lower levels of selenium, an essential mineral that also plays a role in reducing inflammation.

In the second part of the study, Linday and her team recruited seven children who had had at least one ear infection in the previous ear infection season, which runs from September through March. These children were given a teaspoon of lemon-flavored cod liver oil orally and a multivitamin containing selenium every day throughout ear infection season.

Overall, these children received antibiotics for almost 13 percent fewer days. Five of the children had no more ear infections for the duration of the season.

Linday says it's important to note this was a pilot study.

Dr. Adriana Castro, head of pediatrics at Baptist Children's Hospital in Miami, agrees more work needs to be done, but says this is a promising study.

Linday cautions parents not to add supplements to their child's diet without checking with their health-care provider first, because cod liver oil supplements contain varying amounts of vitamin A and D, and these vitamins can be toxic in large amounts.

Another caveat, Castro says, is that a small number of children may be allergic to cod liver oil.

What To Do

For more information on ear infections, visit the National Institute and Other Communication Disorders Information Clearinghouse or check out Kids Health.

SOURCES: Linda Linday, M.D., pediatrician and research associate, The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, New York City; Adriana Castro, M.D., head, pediatrics, Baptist Children's Hospital, Miami; July 2002 Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology
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