Omega-3 supplements are already widely used to improve heart health and increasingly for mental health. Allergy reduction could expand the application areas further.
Allergic diseases in youngsters have dramatically increased in western countries over the last 20 to 30 years, and they are often attributed to changes in lifestyle, such as diet.
Different groups of researchers have investigated whether fatty acids like omega-3s taken by mothers and children at birth could reduce the likelihood of children developing such diseases.
A UK study that investigated the effect of prenatal consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 on offspring found no protection against wheezing or asthma.
But the new study, reported in the October issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (vol 114, issue 4, pp 807-813), found that fatty acid supplementation seemed to reduce cough in children at risk for allergy. No benefit was seen in kids not predisposed to allergy however.
"There was a significant 10 per cent reduction in the prevalence of cough in atopic children in the active diet group but a negligible 1.1 per cent reduction in cough among non-atopic children," write the researchers from the Children's Hospital at Westmead, Australia.
Their study confirmed that the supplements offered no protection against wheezing, however it did find that another intervention, avoiding exposure to dust mites in the house, also helps.
The findings were gathered from 526 children with a family history of asthma enrolled antenatally in a randomized controlled trial. The subjects were followed to three years of age.
"These results suggest that our interventions, designed to be used in simple public health campaigns, may have a role in preventing the development of allergic sensitization and airways disease in early childhood," the authors conclude.