Recent research suggests that fish oil supplementation in the first six months of an infants life helps to reduce the production of allergy-related mediators & increases levels of omega 3 fatty acids.
The study is the first to test the effects of fish oil supplementation immediately after the birth of a child up to six months of age.
A team of UWA researchers collected blood samples from 120 six-month-old infants who had been given fish oil or control oil from birth & assessed fatty acid levels as well as immune cell responses to milk, egg & house dust mite allergens.
Compared to the control oil group, the fish oil group showed significantly higher levels of the two main beneficial omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) & docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) & lower levels of the potentially inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA).
These subjects with higher levels of DHA also showed significantly lower interleukin 13 (IL-13, a mediator of allergic inflammation) responses to house dust mite allergens & lower interleukin 5 (IL-5, another allergic cytokine) responses to milk allergens.
UWA School of Paediatrics and Child Health researcher Nina D’Vaz says the reduction in IL-13 and IL-5 in the fish oil group, accompanied by higher levels of two cytokines that are not generally linked with allergies (tumor necrosis factor, TNF-α and interferon-gamma, IFN-γ) may indicate a favourable shift in immunity.
D'Vaz says,“Although modest, the reduction in the ‘bad’ allergic mediators IL-5 and IL-13 indicates that giving fish oil or elevating omega-3 fatty acid levels may influence the immune system in a way potentially favourable in terms of allergy development. However, although omega-3 fatty acids are generally considered anti-inflammatory & omega-6 fatty acids considered pro-inflammatory, a good balance between the two fatty acids is important."
She continues to say that it is not as clear cut as saying, ‘Omega-3 is good and omega-6 is bad’; they are both essential fatty acids.
With recent changes to Western diets there is now a balance heavily in favour of omega-6s from vegetable oils and highly processed foods which may be of importance in the ongoing rise in allergy prevalence.
The theory behind fish oil supplementation is finding a good balance between the fatty acids.
Dr D’Vaz says the UWA team’s follow-up study, will clarify whether the immunomodulatory effects of fish oil & omega-3 fatty acids observed in this study translate to an effect on actual allergies.
8 August 2012