Fish oil supplementation in early infancy modulates developing infant immune responses



Susan L Prescott

School Paediatrics and Child Health Research (SPACH)

University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia

PO Box D184

Princess Margaret Hospital

Perth, WA 6001





Maternal fish oil supplementation during pregnancy has been associated with altered infant immune responses and a reduced risk of infant sensitization and eczema.


To examine the effect of early postnatal fish oil supplementation on infant cellular immune function at 6 months of age in the context of allergic disease.


In a double-blind randomized controlled trial (ACTRN12606000281594), 420 infants of high atopic risk received fish oil [containing 280 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 110 mg eicosapentanoic acid (EPA)] or control oil daily from birth to 6 months. One hundred and twenty infants had blood collected at 6 months of age. Fatty acid levels, induced cytokine responses, T cell subsets and monocyte HLA-DR expression were assessed at 6 months of age. Infant allergies were assessed at 6 and 12 months of age.


DHA and EPA levels were significantly higher in the fish oil group and erythrocyte arachidonic acid (AA) levels were lower (all P < 0.05). Infants in the fish oil group had significantly lower IL-13 responses (= 0.036) to house dust mite (HDM) and higher IFNγ (P = 0.035) and TNF (P = 0.017) responses to phytohaemaglutinin (PHA). Infants with relatively high DHA levels had lower Th2 responses to allergens including lower IL-13 to β-lactoglobulin (BLG) (P = 0.020), and lower IL-5 to BLG (P = 0.045).

Conclusions and clinical relevance

Postnatal fish oil supplementation increased infant n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) levels and associated with lowered allergen-specific Th2 responses and elevated polyclonal Th1 responses. Our results add to existing evidence of n-3 PUFA having immunomodulatory properties that are potentially allergy-protective.