Results of a double-blind randomized controlled trial with 120 infants revealed that fish oil supplements led to an increase in blood levels of the omega-3s eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and decreased allergic responses to allergens such as dust mites.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the effects of direct postnatal fish oil supplementation on immune development in the first 6 months of life,” wrote researchers from the University of Western Australia in Clinical and Experimental Allergy.
“Collectively our observations support a biologically plausible relationship that needs to be explored further but are in agreement with growing evidence that optimizing n-3 PUFA status during early life may have a favourable effect on immune patterns and allergy development.”
Commenting on the study’s findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of scientific and regulatory affairs for GOED, the omega-3 trade association, said: “The incidence, as well as prevalence, of allergic disorders in the developing world continues to rise.
“The present results demonstrating the immunomodulatory properties of EPA and DHA translating into allergy protection suggest that the simple step of supplementation with EPA and DHA in infancy may result in increased quality of life, not to mention decreased health care costs, for those afflicted with allergic conditions.
“Tracking the studied infants over time will be crucial to understanding the longer term impact of such supplementation.”
Led by Susan Prescott, the researchers recruited 420 infants and randomly assigned them to receive control oil or daily fish oil supplements providing 280 mg of DHA and 110 mg of EPA from birth to six months of age.
Blood data from 120 infants was available for analysis after six months of study. Results showed that EPA and DHA were significantly higher in the fish oil group, and levels of the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA) were lower, compared to the control infants.
In addition, the fish oil group had significantly lower allergic responses to dust mites and milk protein, as measured by interleukin-13 (IL-13) levels and interferon-gamma levels.
“Children who received fish oil had significantly lower allergen-specific (HDM) IL-13 responses, which were significantly associated with cutaneous symptoms of eczema at 6 months of age and diagnosed eczema at 12 months of age,” added the researchers.
“Although the dose of n-3 PUFA used in our study was relatively high, the increases in n-3 PUFA levels were modest, which may suggest issues with the delivery method, bioavailability and absorption of the ethyl ester supplements.
“While our results show that the supplement was consumed by the infants, we are unable to accurately estimate whether any oil remained in the capsules or was rejected by the infants (through spitting or vomiting), and we suggest maternal supplementation is a more attractive and efficient mode of supplementation for breastfed infants.”
Source: Clinical and Experimental Allergy
Volume 42, Number 8, Pages 1206-1216, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2012.04031.x
“Fish oil supplementation in early infancy modulates developing infant immune responses”
Authors: N. D'Vaz, S.J. Meldrum, J.A. Dunstan, T.F. Lee-Pullen, J. Metcalfe, B.J. Holt, M. Serralha, M.K. Tulic, T.A. Mori, S.L. Prescott