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Fish and vegetable oils 'unlikely' to prevent allergy

Fri April 10th, 2009

Experts have found disappointing results for the prevention of allergies with fatty acid supplements.

There has been a dramatic rise in allergy rates around the world over recent decades. Babies born into households where one or more first degree relative (mother, father, or siblings) has an allergic condition are at a much higher risk. If one parent is affected the risk is about 50 per cent, increasing to 75 per cent for both parents.

This situation has led to a great deal of research into prevention and treatment, but researchers have not yet come to any firm conclusions.

Dr Chantelle Anandan and colleagues at Edinburgh University, UK, looked into the effectiveness of the essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6 in preventing and treating eczema, hay fever and asthma. These oils may reduce the inflammation behind many allergy symptoms.

Omega 3 is largely found in fish oils while omega 6 is found in meat. Vegetable oils often contain a mixture of the two kinds of fatty acid.

The team examined results from six reliable research trials in which 938 "high-risk" adults or children took either a supplement or an inactive placebo. Those who took part in the research did not suffer from any current allergies. Findings appear in the journal Allergy.

Many of the adults were women who were pregnant or breast-feeding babies and the studies set out to find whether diets high in omega oils would protect their children.

"There was no clear evidence of benefit in relation to reduced risk of allergic sensitisation or a favourable immunological profile," they write. The analysis "failed to identify any consistent or clear benefits for eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis [hay fever] or food allergy".

They state that, contrary to previous reports, this study suggests that supplementation with omega 3 and omega 6 oils "is probably unlikely to play an important role as a strategy for the primary prevention of sensitisation or allergic disease".

"These interventions cannot therefore at present be recommended as a preventative strategy," they conclude.

Anandan, C., Nurmatov, U. and Sheikh, A. Omega 3 and 6 oils for primary prevention of allergic disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. Allergy, published online: April 7, 2009.

Tags: UK News | Allergies & Asthma | Nutrition & Healthy Eating | Child Health

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