Children can develop allergies in infancy but fish in their diet can help protect them both as babies and later in life.
Eating pureed fish may be the best baby food to prevent allergies later in childhood.
Consuming fish during infancy can lower a child’s risk of food or seasonal allergies, asthma and eczema by about 75 percent, according to a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Eight percent of children in the U.S. suffer from allergies.
Jessica Magnusson, a Ph.D. student at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and one of the authors of the study, said the study involved 3,285 children. Researchers followed them and surveyed their families with questionnaires when the children were ages of 1, 2, 4, 8 and 12 years to better understand when symptoms started to appear.
Eighty percent of children who participated in the study ate fish at least twice a month. After following the children over the years, results showed allergy risks were reduced in children who ate fish as a baby. The other 20 percent of children in the study didn't eat fish.
“We had in a previous study, [with] the same children, seen an association between fish intake in infancy and a reduced risk of allergic disease,” she said, “but then we had only been able to study allergic disease up to age 4.” Now with information up to 12 years old, they decided to do another study to see if the reduced risk lasted as they got older.
However, specific allergies were not studied independently and the researchers were unable to keep track of what types of fish were eaten.
Jacqueline Pongracic, division head of allergy and immunology at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, said the most common food allergens differ between cultures. “Where there is a high consumption of fish, there are less fish allergies,” she said. “Same thing with other foods.” Pongracic said the study follows in the same direction as others by introducing food allergens earlier on.
“Fish is one of the top eight food allergens,” said Ruchi Gupta, associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. “The big question is that is there this time during infancy where exposing them to food helps their immune system and prevents allergies?”
According to Gupta, there is no other known way to lower the risk of allergies, though theories abound. “There’s the hygiene hypothesis, where we’re becoming too clean and our immune systems aren’t fighting anything else so they’re fighting food,” she said. “The other is the way we’re processing food with things like GMOs or pesticides. We’re just trying to figure out what’s going on.”
Leslie Alter, a mother of three in Highland Park, noticed allergy symptoms developing for her two sons at about eight or nine months of age. Her daughter has no allergies. One of the sons, who was allergic to peanut butter, was introduced to the food at 3 years old. “We didn’t realize he had a peanut allergy until he was a little older,” she said. “But he just grew out of it. No peanut therapy.”
According to Alter, the study results wouldn't help her second son, who is allergic to fish and shellfish along with other foods. “I don’t know what that would do for a kid like that,” she said.
However, Alter believes that the study is definitely something for parents to try. “It worries me that my son does not get fish because of omega 3 and fatty acids,” she said. “Assuming my kid didn’t have an actual allergy to it, I’d say why not.”