Children who eat nuts, fish and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids every day are at a reduced risk of developing asthma and rhinitis, a new study finds.
According to researchers at the Karolinksa Institute, polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 are important to consume through foods like vegetable oils, nuts and oily fish because the body is unable to produce the long-chain fatty acids itself.
It’s these long-chain fatty acids that are key to reducing one’s chance of developing asthma and rhinitis in childhood, researchers believe.
“Since allergies often debut during childhood, it is of particular interest to study if children’s environment and lifestyle affect the development of these diseases,” lead study author Anna Bergstrom said in a statement.
The study looked at 940 children and was conducted as part of the Swedish birth cohort BAMSE.
What researchers found was that kids who had higher blood levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids at the age of eight were less likely to have developed asthma or rhinitis by 16 years of age.
High levels of omega-6 fatty acids (known as arachidonic acid) were also associated with a reduced risk of asthma and rhinitis at the age of 16.
Children who were eight years of age and had asthma or rhinitis, higher blood levels of omega-6 fatty acids were linked with a higher probability of being symptom-free by the time they reached 16.
The study, which is the largest of its kind, was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
For registered dietitian Tristica Curley, the results of the study aren’t a surprise.
“There are several studies that have found that the higher a child’s intake of omega-3 fats, the lower their chance of allergic disease, such as rhinitis and asthma,” she says. “This is thought to be due to the ability of omega-3 fats to lower inflammation.”
What did surprise her though, was the finding that omega-6 fatty acids were also able to reduce the risk of developing allergies as well.
“Studies up until now have found conflicting results with omega-6 acids and risk of allergy,” Curey says. “This specific omega-6 fat is found in poultry, eggs and beef.”
Curley says omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential to our health, meaning that we have to eat them regularly in order to reap the benefits.
“Omega-3s can sometimes be hard to get in a child’s diet as kids often don’t like eating fish,” she says. “In that case, omega-3 enriched eggs or perhaps even supplements would be recommended. Omega-6s are often a lot easier to get in a child’s diet and even as adults, we often are getting sufficient levels of omega-6.”
According to Curley, omega-3s are vital for normal growth and cognitive development in kids. They also play a role in eye and brain health for adults and help prevent heart disease. Omega-6s in particular play a role in immunity, as well as brain and cardiovascular health as we age.
Over eight per cent of Canadians – or about 2.4 million people – over the age of 12 were diagnosed with asthma by a health professional in 2014, Statistics Canada reports.
Women are more likely than men to report having asthma as the rate for women was 9.2 per cent and seven per cent for men that year.