Increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy may decrease the risk of atopic eczema in children by 36%, suggests a new Australian study.
From 2005 to 2008, a randomized controlled trial investigated whether or not mothers suffered less from postpartum depression if they took a daily capsule of docosahexaenoic acid–rich fish oil (providing 800 mg of DHA and 100 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid) or a placebo from 21 weeks gestation to birth (1). In a follow-up study, 706 infants of mothers who had participated in the earlier trial were chosen for their high hereditary risk of developing allergic diseases. They were diagnosed at 1 year of age for immunoglobulin E associated allergic diseases, such as eczema or food allergy with sensitization (2). The study results showed that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy did not significantly reduce the overall incidence of immunoglobulin E associated allergies in the children’s first year of life. Supplementation during pregnancy did however correlate with a reduction the percentage of infants with atopic eczema by 36%, as well as the chance of being sensitized to egg by 38% and the chance of having an egg allergy by 50%.
The researchers concluded that for pregnant women with allergies and living in industrialized societies it may be possible to reduce the chances of her baby developing atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis in the first year of life by taking about 1 g of fish oil fatty acids per day in the last half of pregnancy. This would confirm the importance of omega-3 fatty acids for healthy immune system development. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is the primary immune system antibody associated with allergic responses.