Children fed fish before they turn one face a lower risk of developing eczema and asthma, research has suggested.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology scientists examined the diets of hundreds of youngsters.
Results showed six-year-olds fed fish at least once a week as an infant were 28 and 40 per cent less likely to develop eczema and asthma, respectively.
Charities today described the paper’s findings as an ‘encouraging’ step in the fight against preventing allergies.
Previous studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids – which fish are rich in – have an anti-inflammatory effect which combats disease.
Asthma is caused by inflamed airways that get clogged with mucus. Inflammation also plays a role in eczema.
A team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology examined the relationship between infants’ early years fish intake to their suffering from these allergy-related diseases at six years old
The results suggest children’s intake of fish and cod liver oil may be more significant than the mother’s intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
In the paper, the authors lament the ballooning number of people suffering with these health issues, and blamed snacks loaded with polyunsaturated fatty acids which have lowered the amount of omega-3 acids being consumed.
The study, led by Professor Torbjørn Øien of the university, analysed data from more than 4,000 six year olds.
This was compared with survey responses from their mothers, detailing how much fish the youngsters were fed.
They all filled out four questionnaires – one during pregnancy, and the others when their child was aged six weeks, one year and two years.
Participating mothers were also quizzed on a range of lifestyle topics, such as smoking habits and financial status.
Toddlers who enjoy a diet rich in either lean or fatty fish have a lower chance of developing eczema, asthma and wheeze by 28 per cent, 40 per cent and 34 per cent respectively, they discovered
The diet questions divided oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, into a separate category from cod, pollock and other types of lean fish.
Mothers revealed how often they fed their child based on fixed categories, ranging from ‘never’ to ‘four or more times per week’.
Child health questionnaires, focusing on signs and symptoms of allergy-related diseases, were also completed when the child was two and six.
Determining whether the youngster had asthma was largely based on doctors’ diagnosis, but other observational indicators were taken into account.
For example, parents were asked ‘has the child ever had an itchy rash which came and went over at least six months?’ to determine eczema.
Data showed children who consumed oily fish at least once a week when they were one were five per cent less likely to develop eczema aged six.
NHS guidelines on fish consumption during pregnancy
Eating fish is good for your health and the development of your baby, but you should avoid some types of fish and limit the amount you eat of some others.
When you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you shouldn’t eat shark, swordfish or marlin.
You should also limit the amount of tuna you eat.
This is because tuna contains more mercury than other types of fish and could affect your baby’s developing nervous system.
A pregnant woman should consume no more than two tuna steaks a week (about 140g cooked or 170g raw each), or four medium-sized cans of tuna a week (about 140g when drained).
When pregnant, you should also avoid having more than two portions of oily fish a week as it can contain pollutants like dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls.
They were also 28 and 17 per cent less likely to get asthma or wheeze, respectively, according to results published in the journal Nutrients.
Lean fish had an even bigger effect. Children who consumed at least one bit of cod or pollock each week were 24 per cent less likely to get eczema.
Results showed they were also 44 per cent less likely to develop asthma, and 31 per cent less likely to develop wheeze.
Lean fish was eaten more than oily fish at each stage of the child’s infancy.
Writing in the journal, the authors said: ‘The preventive effect of fish consumption is best achieved by increasing dietary fish in the first year of life.’
Fatty acids acids are important because the body cannot make them itself, so they must be provided by diet or supplements.
And parents with fussy infants who cannot bear to stomach fish can reduce their children’s chance of allergy-related diseases with supplements.
Cod liver oil consumption at least four times per week at one year of age was found to be associated with a lower risk of asthma, eczema and wheeze.
In a separate finding, the researchers discovered mothers who consumed fish during pregnancy were no less likely to develop allergy-related diseases.
Data showed children born to mothers who ate oily fish once a week while expecting were 34 and 27 per cent more likely to develop asthma and wheeze, respectively.
But the team said the findings are too preliminary to prove that fish consumption in pregnancy ‘may not be beneficial’.
The NHS recommends eating fish during pregnancy because it is good for the baby’s development.
It only recommends avoiding shark, swordfish or marlin and limiting the amount of tuna owing to its high mercury content.
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids
Most of the health claims surrounding fish oil involve the essential fatty acid omega-3.
Omega-3 is thought to have a positive, anti-inflammatory effect, which can benefit a number of heath conditions and protect people from disease.
It is found in rich quantities in the flesh of oily fish including salmon and trout.
These acids are important because the body cannot make them itself, so they must be provided by diet or supplements.
Previous research has indicated that fish oil is most effective in supporting heart and brain health as well as reducing joint pain.
Eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin that leads to redness, blistering, oozing, scaling and thickening.
It usually appears in the first few months of life and affects around 10 per cent of babies.
Eczema’s cause is not fully understood but it is thought to be brought on by the skin’s barrier to the outside world not working properly, which allows irritants and allergy-inducing substances to enter.
Sufferers of wheezing make a high-pitch whistling noise when they exhale because of either narrow airways or inflammation.
It can be caused by allergies or extend from other illnesses such as asthma or lung cancer.
If it is a serious breathing problem, it will often by diagnosed and treatment will be prescribed.
Asthma is a common but incurable condition which affects the small tubes inside the lungs.
It can cause them to become inflamed, or swollen, which restricts the airways and makes it harder to breathe.
Dr Erika Kennington, head of research at Asthma UK, said: ‘Studies like this which investigate the ways that children could avoid getting asthma are encouraging.
‘But while there have been a small number of studies in this area, there is not enough evidence to be sure whether eating fish really can prevent asthma.’
Asthma rates in the UK are among the worst in Europe, with some 1.1million currently children receiving treatment.