Eating Fish in Infancy Lowers Eczema Risk

Researchers Uncertain Why Fish Is Protective

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 25, 2008 - There is early evidence that eating fish in infancy may help protect against eczema in early childhood.

Babies in a newly published study whose diets included fish before the age of 9 months were 24% less likely to develop eczema by their first birthdays than babies who did not eat fish.

The infants were enrolled in an ongoing health study in Sweden that is following almost 17,000 children from birth though childhood.

Having a mother or sibling with eczema was the strongest risk factor for developing the allergic skin condition during the first year of life.

But the impact of early fish consumption on risk was significant, lead author Bernt Alm, MD, PhD, of Sweden's Queen Silvia Children's Hospital, tells WebMD.

"We believe this is a real risk reduction," he says. "We can't be certain of this, but the finding certainly warrants further study."

Fish, Food Allergies, and Eczema

There has been a dramatic rise in the incidence of allergic disease, including eczema, among young children over the last few decades, but the reasons for this remain largely unknown.

While it is clear that genetic predisposition plays a big part in risk, the impact of allergic foods and the timing of food introduction remain less well understood.

" Food allergies contribute to about a third of moderate to severe eczema cases in children," pediatric allergist David Fleischer, MD, of National Jewish Medical and Research Center, tells WebMD.

Allergic foods, including dairy, eggs, nuts, and seafood have been linked to the development or trigger of eczema and other allergic diseases in some studies. But others suggest a protective benefit for some of these foods.

In their latest investigation, Alm and colleagues examined dietary and allergy data from almost 5,000 children enrolled in the Swedish health study.

By the time they reached age 6 months, 14% of the infants had developed eczema. By their first birthdays, 21% had previous or current eczema.

While early fish consumption was found to protect against eczema, it did not seem to matter if the fish the young children ate contained large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

It has been suggested that omega-3 is protective against allergic disease, but several recent studies have failed to show this, Alm says.

"There seems to be something special in fish that helps protect against eczema, but we can't say what that is," he says.