Eating more fish and fruit and vegetables may prevent respiratory diseases and winter coughs in children, say researchers.
The team examined a large population of children from Central and Eastern Europe and found poor nutrition to be strongly associated with coughs and respiratory infections. Low fish intake was the most consistent predictor of poor respiratory health, with a clear association between eating fish less than once a month and a persistent cough or wheeze.
It has been suggested that diets poor in antioxidants and minerals or with an unbalanced intake of essential fatty acids are among the potential risk factors for asthma and respiratory illness. "The possible protective effects of fish intake on health may be due mainly to fish oil containing omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids," suggested the authors of the study, published in the journal Thorax.
A large survey of more than 20 200 children aged between 7-11 was carried out in six European countries. The researchers assessed respiratory health and intake of foods such as fish, summer and winter fruits and vegetables, and evaluated the associations between these foods and four symptoms: a persistent cough, a winter cough, a wheeze and current wheeze.
All symptoms showed initial associations with nutritional factors, report the scientists. And low consumption of fish and of summer and winter fruit were the most consistent predictors.
They found that low fish intake remained a significant independent predictor of all four symptoms. Low summer fruit intake was a predictor of winter cough and persistent cough while low winter fruit intake was associated with winter cough.
Associations between symptoms and vegetable intake were inconsistent, however. Low summer intake was significantly associated with winter cough but, overall, winter intake had inverse associations with both coughs.
"In such a context, appropriate nutrition may have an important role to play in maintaining health and reducing the prevalence of these symptoms and their resulting burden," write the researchers.