The modern-day diet, also known as the Standard American Diet (SAD), is full of nutrient-poor processed foods. The recent increase in allergy prevalence in developed countries has been attributed, at least in part, to this decline in diet quality. Consumption of inflammation-promoting foods has gone up while that of anti-inflammatory foods has gone down.1 Particularly, the decrease in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (mainly those found in fatty fish—EPA and DHA) and an increase in the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids has been found to promote the risk of allergies.
Building on evidence from previous observational studies, a recent study evaluated fish oil supplementation in infants born to women with allergies on immune function.2 The infants received 650 mg of fish oil (containing 280 mg DHA and 110 mg EPA) or placebo daily from birth to six months of age. The fish oil was either squeezed into the infants’ mouth or added to milk with the first daily feed.
The children who received fish oil had lower allergic responses to dust mites (a common asthma allergen) and milk protein, which was associated with reduced symptoms of eczema at 6 months and reduced diagnosis of eczema at 12 months. “Collectively our observations support a biologically plausible relationship that needs to be explored further but are in agreement with growing evidence that optimizing omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid status during early life may have a favorable effect on immune patterns and allergy development,” stated the researchers.
The specific immune responses included a reduced allergen-specific interleukin-13 (IL-13) response along with higher interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) and TNF responses. “This apparently ‘favorable’ change in Th1/Th2 [immune] balance could indicate a reduced risk of subsequent allergies with fish oil supplementation,” stated the paper. “We showed that infants with lower DHA levels were more likely to develop eczema by 12 months and consistently produced more IL-5 and IL-13 to both allergens.”
Although the study used fish oil supplements administered directly to the infants, the authors recommended supplementation by the breastfeeding mother as a “more attractive and efficient mode of supplementation,” due to the relatively modest levels of omega-3 levels measured in the supplemented infants, which suggests difficulty with delivery method or absorption.
This study builds on evidence of the importance of omega-3 status during infancy, and even pregnancy, on the development of proper immune response. Both omega-3s and probiotics have been found helpful in the support of proper immune response, as I have mentioned in previous blogs. Remember that a balanced immune response is the cornerstone of good health in so many respects.
- C.E. West, et al., “Dietary immunomodulatory factors in the development of immune tolerance.” Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2011 Aug;11(4):325-33.
- N. D’Vaz, et al., “Fish oil supplementation in early infancy modulates developing infant immune responses.” Clin Exp Allergy. 2012 Aug;42(8):1206-16.