London, England—New researchsuggests that a higher dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids in childhood may reduce risk of developing asthma in children carrying a specific gene variant.

“Asthma is the most common chronic condition in childhood and we currently don’t know how to prevent it," said senior author Professor Seif Shaheen, from Queen Mary University of London, in a press release. "It is possible that a poor diet may increase the risk of developing asthma, but until now most studies have taken ‘snapshots,’ measuring diet and asthma over a short period of time. Instead, we measured diet and then followed up with children over many years to see who developed asthma and who didn’t.”

The study used data from the UK birth cohort Children of the 90s, which recruited mothers who were pregnant in the early 1990s and has been following up with their offspring ever since. The researchers analyzed the association between intake of EPA and DHA from fish at 7 years of age and incidence of new cases of asthma at 11-14 years of age.

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While omega-3 intake from fish was not associated with asthma in the cohort as a whole—consisting of 4,543 people—more than half of the children carried a common variant of the fatty acid desaturase gene, which is associated with lower levels of long-chain fatty omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. In those children, those in the top quartile of omega-3 intake had a 51% lower risk of asthma than those in the bottom quartile.

This was also found in an independent birth cohort study in Sweden.

These are only observational studies, and therefore cannot prove causation. Shaheen noted: “Whilst we cannot say for certain that eating more fish will prevent asthma in children, based on our findings, it would nevertheless be sensible for children in the UK to consume more fish, as few currently achieve recommended intake.”

The study was led by Queen Mary University of London and performed in collaboration with the University of Bristol and University of Southampton, UK, and Karolinska Institutet, Sweden. It was published in theEuropean Respiratory Journal.