In a new study, researchers found that a higher dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in childhood may reduce the risk of subsequent asthma, but only in children carrying a common gene variant.
The research was conducted by a team at the Queen Mary University of London and elsewhere.
In the UK, 1.1 million children (1 in 11) are currently receiving treatment for asthma and most adult asthma begins in childhood.
Asthma is the most common chronic condition in childhood and doctors currently don’t know how to prevent it.
It is possible that a poor diet may increase the risk of developing asthma, but until now most studies have taken ‘snap-shots’, measuring diet and asthma over a short period of time.
In the study, the team measured diet and then followed up children over many years to see who developed asthma and who didn’t.
The data were from a large UK birth cohort, Children of the 90s.
The team analyzed the association between intake of EPA and DHA from fish at 7 years of age and incidence of new asthma cases at 11-14 years of age.
Fish is of particular interest because it is a rich source of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have anti-inflammatory properties.
The team found that long-chain omega-3 intake from fish was not linked to asthma in the cohort as a whole (4,543 people).
However, the team looked in more detail at children with a particular genetic make-up.
More than half of the children carried a common variant in the fatty acid desaturase (FADS) gene which is linked to lower levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the blood.
In these children, a higher dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids was linked to a lower risk of asthma.
The risk was 51% lower, comparing those in the top quartile of long chain omega-3 intake with those in the bottom quartile.
Furthermore, this finding was also found in an independent birth cohort study in Sweden.
The team says the next step is to see if higher intake is also associated with a lower risk of exacerbations in children who already have asthma.
One author of the study is Professor Seif Shaheen.
The study is published in the European Respiratory Journal.
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