Consuming Fish Oil During Pregnancy Could Help Prevent Childhood Allergies

A new study suggests that pregnant women who consume fish oil and probiotics may reduce the risk of their children developing allergies — but why?

Researchers at Imperial College London conducted a meta-analysis of over 400 past scientific trials that collected information from 1.5 million mothers in total. The scientists examined how maternal diet might impact the health of their children in the early years of life, with a particular focus on childhood allergies. The researchers discovered a couple of notable trends.

When pregnant mothers consumed fish oil supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, or when they consumed probiotics, their children were less likely to develop common allergies — and this was no small reduction in risk.

Daily fish oil capsules, which were taken after the 20th week of pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding, appeared to lower the risk of a child having an egg allergy by 30 percent. Probiotic supplements between 26 and 28 weeks of pregnancy appeared to lower eczema risk in infants by 22 percent.

But that’s not all. A common piece of advice given to mothers is to avoid foods that are thought to be  particularly problematic, like nuts. As the received wisdom goes, this can reduce a child’s risk of developing an allergy. However, the data in this analysis did not support the idea that reductions in nut, dairy or egg consumption had any impact on allergy risk. The findings also revealed that fruit and vegetable consumption did not change allergy risk.

 Lead author Dr. Robert Boyle explained:

Food allergies and eczema in children are a growing problem across the world. Although there has been a suggestion that what a woman eats during pregnancy may affect her baby’s risk of developing allergies or eczema, until now there has never been such a comprehensive analysis of the data. Our research suggests probiotic and fish oil supplements may reduce a child’s risk of developing an allergic condition, and these findings need to be considered when guidelines for pregnant women are updated.

The scientists are quick to point out that some types of fish can present a danger to expecting mothers and their children, thanks to mercury content. They add that pregnant women should avoid supplements high in vitamin A, which fish liver oils may contain. Mothers looking to supplement their diets should consult their local pharmacy or their doctor.

How does a mother’s diet impact childhood allergies?

Allergies occur when a person’s immune system responds to a substance — in this case, something in food — that it mistakenly identifies as risky. When this happens, the immune system reacts, causing inflammation and a range of other symptoms. In some extreme cases, respiratory problems may result. Other reactions, like rashes and skin conditions, are also common.

The exact cause of this immune system misfire isn’t precisely understood, but researchers are zeroing in on a couple of likely factors. One is a genetic problem, given that allergies tend to be inherited.

However, another area of research that has increasingly interested scientists is our biodome of bacteria. Human beings are literally covered in bacteria — both inside our bodies and out. One of the most important bacterial homes is the gut, and there’s mounting evidence of a “second brain” in our stomachs that may effect how body function. Certainly, there seems to be a strong connection between our immune systems and the health of our gut bacteria.

Researchers suggest that the increase in allergies, particularly in the West, may be partially due to humans having less contact with microbes. Put simply, we associate cleanliness with reducing disease risk. As a general rule of thumb, that’s sensible, but our pursuit of sterile environments may be yielding problems.

In this case, it may be that when mothers ensure, via supplementation, that their gut bacteria is robust and varied, the resources then passed on to their children during pregnancy may include a more intelligent immune response. This is, of course, just a theory, and the researchers are keen to stress that the data in this analysis cannot provide firm conclusions.

Even so, this research highlights that a mother’s diet could safeguard her child from certain allergies. If this study holds up under further scrutiny, it would be worth exploring health interventions that target expecting mothers and help support a healthy diet in line with these findings.

Photo Credit: exoimperator/Flickr

43 comments

Chad A
Chad A1 months ago

Nice.

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie3 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie3 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Terri S
Terri S3 months ago

Skip the fish and go right to where the krill and fish get the omega 3's - algae. There are excellent vegan omega 3's sourced from algae.

There are also studies that vaginal births are important because the child receives the natural immunity in the mother as they travel through the vaginal wall. There has been an explosion of cesarian births that many scientists believe are so detrimental to the child because they totally miss this natural inoculation.

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Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Winn A
Winnie A3 months ago

Thanks

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Sherri S
Sherri S3 months ago

Ineresting.

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Margie F
Margie FOURIE3 months ago

Fish oil seems to be the in thing nowadays. Both my dogs and myself are taking it.

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Lenore K
Lenore K3 months ago

dont kill babies or anyone

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