Background Dietary fatty acid intake has been proposed to contribute to asthma development with n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) having a detrimental and n-3 PUFA a protective effect.
Objective The aim of our analysis was to explore the relationship between fatty acid composition of serum cholesteryl esters as marker of dietary intake and prevalence of asthma, impaired lung function and bronchial hyper-responsiveness in children.
Methods The study population consisted of 242 girls and 284 boys aged 8–11 years, living in Munich, Germany. Data were collected by parental questionnaire, lung function measurement and skin prick test according to the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood phase II protocol. Confounder-adjusted odds ratios (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated for the association between quartiles of fatty acid concentration and health outcomes with the first quartile as reference.
Results n-3 PUFA: levels of eicosapentaenoic acid were not related to asthma and impaired lung function. Linolenic acid levels were positively associated with current asthma (OR for fourth quartile 3.35, 95% CI 1.29–8.66). Forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) values decreased with increasing levels of linolenic acid (p for trend=0.057). n-6 PUFA: there was a strong positive association between arachidonic acid levels and current asthma (OR4th quartile 4.54, 1.77–11.62) and a negative association with FEV1 (P=0.036). In contrast, linoleic acid was negatively related to current asthma (OR4th quartile 0.34, 0.14–0.87) and FEV1 values increased with increasing levels of linoleic acid (P=0.022). The ratio of measured n-6 to n-3 PUFA as well as levels of palmitic and oleic acid were not consistently related to asthma or lung function.
Conclusion Our data do not support the hypothesis of a protective role of n-3 PUFA. Elevated arachidonic acid levels in children with asthma may be because of a disturbed balance in the metabolism of n-6 PUFA or may be secondary to inflammation in these patients.