It has been suggested that changes in dietary habits, particularly increased consumption of ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and decreased consumption of ω-3 PUFAs may explain the increase in atopic disease seen in recent years. Furthermore, it seems possible that it is mainly prenatal or very early life environmental factors that influence the development of allergic diseases. It has also been suggested that intrauterine risk factors may act differently if mother themselves suffer from allergic disease.
The aim of this study was to investigate whether the consumption of fish, butter and margarine during pregnancy might influence the development of allergic sensitizations in the offspring. The study population was divided into the offspring of allergic and non-allergic mothers.
This was a retrospective cohort study enrolling 295 offspring of allergic mothers and 693 of non-allergic mothers. Information regarding maternal intake of fish, butter and margarine during pregnancy as well as other prenatal and perinatal confounding factors were retrospectively assessed by parental report via a standardized questionnaire. Atopy was determined by skin-prick tests (SPT) to eight prevalent inhalant allergens and two foods.
In the allergic mothers’ group there is no clear correlation between maternal intakes of fish, butter and margarine and sensitizations to food or inhalants.
In the non-allergic mothers’ group there was no correlation between butter and margarine intake and food or inhalant sensitizations. On the contrary, a protective effect of fish intake on SPT positivity was observed. In particular, frequent maternal intake (‘2–3 times/wk or more’) of fish reduced the risk of food sensitizations by over a third (aOR 0.23; 95% CI: 0.08–0.69). A similar trend, even if not significant, was found for inhalants. Finally, even in the whole study population, i.e. allergic group plus non-allergic group, there was a similar trend between increased consumption of fish and decreased prevalence of SPT positivity for foods.
This study shows that frequent intake of fish during pregnancy may contrast the development of SPT sensitizations for foods in the offspring of mothers without atopic disease. Therefore, larger prospective studies are needed, enrolling mothers with and without allergic disease, to confirm these results.