A recent Australian study has delivered the first human data showing that early postnatal fish oil supplementation increases n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) levels in infants and is associated with lowered allergenic responses to allergens such as dust mites.
The results of the double-blind, randomized controlled trial using 120 infants add to the already existing evidence concerning the immunomodulatory properties of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).Previous findings have shown that maternal fish oil supplementation during pregnancy is associated with altered infant immune responses and a reduced risk of infant sensitization and eczema. In this study, 420 infants of high atopic risk were split into groups receiving either fish oil supplements containing 280 mg DHA and 110 mg EPA or control oil supplements daily from birth to 6 months. 120 of the study participants then had their blood tested at 6 months of age. Fatty acid levels, induced cytokine responses, T cell subsets and monocyte HLA-DR expression were also assessed at 6 months of age. Infant allergies were assessed first at 6 months and again at 12 months of age.
It was found that in comparison to the control group, DHA and EPA blood levels were significantly higher in the fish oil group and levels of arachidonic acid (AA), one type of omega-6 fatty acid, were lower. In addition, the infants receiving fish oil supplements had significantly lower allergic responses to dust mites and milk protein, as measured by the levels of interleukin-13 (IL-13) and interferon-gamma detected in the blood. IL-13 is secreted by Th2 immune cells and promotes the synthesis of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, involved in almost any allergic process. The outcome of the fish oil group was a decrease in allergen-specific (HDM) IL-13 responses, associated with cutaneous symptoms of eczema at 6 months of age and diagnosed eczema at 12 months of age. The researchers point out that their findings may improve the future quality of life for the rising number of people affected by allergic disorders worldwide and help to cut healthcare costs.