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Fish oil and probiotic supplements during pregnancy 'may reduce' allergies

Article By: Michaela Chirgwin

Taking daily fish oil supplements from 20 weeks pregnant and for the first three to four months of breastfeeding could potentially reduce a baby’s chance of egg allergies, according to a new study.

Eczema may also be reduced with the use of probiotic supplements.

Credit Natalia Deriabina

The research conducted by Imperial College London, is one of the largest ever undertaken to examine how a pregnant woman's diet affects her unborn baby's allergy and eczema risk. It looked at 400 studies involving 1.5m people.

One of the key findings was that one fish oil capsule a day could cut the chance of egg allergy by 30 per cent. It was also shown that taking a daily probiotic supplement from weeks 36-38 of pregnancy, and during the first three to six months of breastfeeding, reduced the risk of a child developing eczema by 22 per cent.

Dr Robert Boyle, lead author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: "Food allergies and eczema in children are a growing problem across the world. Although there has been a suggestion that what a woman eats during pregnancy may affect her baby's risk of developing allergies or eczema, until now there has never been such a comprehensive analysis of the data."

He added: "Our research suggests probiotic and fish oil supplements may reduce a child's risk of developing an allergic condition, and these findings need to be considered when guidelines for pregnant women are updated."

The findings of the study, which were funded by the Food Standards Agency, and published in Journal PLOS Medicine, are being considered by Government, alongside wider evidence on infant feeding and the introduction of solids.

Almost one in 12 young children suffer from a food allergy and they seem to be getting more and more common, according to Allergy UK.

Food allergies happen when the immune system becomes confused. Instead of ignoring harmless food proteins, it triggers a reaction, which leads to the release of a chemical called histamine, which is the cause of classic allergy symptoms such as hives or swelling.

More severe reactions are called anaphylaxis and this is potentially life-threatening.

Extra research is now needed to understand how probiotics and fish oils may reduce allergy and eczema risk.

Dr Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, co-author of the study from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial said: "Despite allergies and eczema being on the rise, and affecting millions of children, we are still hunting for the root causes of these conditions, and how to prevent them.This study has provided clues, which we now need to follow with further research."

According to the Food Standards Agency, families should continue to follow the current Government advice to exclusively breastfeed for around the first six months of age, and continue breastfeeding thereafter.

Solid foods should be introduced into the infant diet at around six months of age.

Pregnant women should also continue to follow government dietary and supplement advice.

You can read the study here


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