2018: Dr Benjamin Albert, University of Auckland, has been awarded a Rutherford foundation postdoctoral fellowship for research entitled: “Omega-3 fats during overweight and obese pregnancy, for metabolic protection of the offspring.”
Obesity can lead to serious health consequences including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and increased risk of developing certain cancers. The majority of New Zealanders are now overweight or obese, including 60% of women of reproductive age. This is important because obesity not only affects the health of mothers, but also their offspring. Children of obese mothers are more likely to be obese themselves and develop diabetes and cardiovascular disease. When these babies are born, they are already at a health disadvantage. The underlying problem is that insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar, works less well in their bodies.
Dr Benjamin Albert has been awarded a Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to follow up on a major discovery he has previously made in rats, demonstrating that giving obese mothers fish oil (omega-3) supplements prevented their offspring from developing problems with their metabolism as they age. In this study, he will use a rat model to determine how fish oil improves metabolism in offspring. In addition, he will also perform a clinical trial in humans to test whether fish oil supplements during pregnancy and early breastfeeding improves the long-term health of children of overweight and obese mothers.
Fish oil supplements are readily available in stores, meaning they are easy for New Zealand women to access. Already 20% of pregnant women take a fish oil supplement. However, Dr Albert has discovered that a significant proportion of fish oil products sold in New Zealand stores have gone “off” (become oxidised). In this study, Dr Albert will therefore also investigate the impact that oxidised fish oil has on pregnant women and their babies.
The results of this fellowship will inform pregnant women about whether using fish oil supplements will promote the future health of their unborn children. It will also inform us about the safe level of oxidation in fish oil, so that we can better understand the quality required for fish oil sold to pregnant women. The ultimate aim of this postdoctoral fellowship is to improve the health of New Zealand children and future adults.