A new large-scale UK study has found that taking fish oil supplements and probiotics while pregnant and breastfeeding can reduce the risk of egg allergy and eczema in children. The study is one of the largest ever research reports on how a pregnant woman’s diet affects her baby’s allergy and eczema risk, with the team assessing over 400 studies involving 1.5 million people.
It was discovered that when pregnant women take a daily fish oil supplement, containing a standard dose of omega-3 fatty acids, from 20 weeks pregnant and during the first three to four months of breastfeeding, the risk of their child developing an egg allergy was reduced by 30%.
Additionally, taking a daily probiotic supplement from 36-38 weeks pregnant, and during the first three to six months of breastfeeding, reduced the risk of a child developing eczema by 22%.
Although it is still not known exactly what causes allergies and eczema, the study’s lead researcher Dr Robert Boyle noted that previous research suggests fish oils may help reduce the risk of allergies by “dampening down” the immune system and preventing it from over-reacting.
Studies have also looked at probiotics, which contain live bacteria that may influence the natural balance of bacteria in the gut, have found that an imbalance in this naturally-occurring bacteria may increase allergy risk.
The study also revealed some evidence for links between longer duration of breastfeeding and a reduced risk of eczema, and breastfeeding was also linked with a lower risk of type-one diabetes.
Allergies are also more common in those who already suffer from eczema, although further research is needed to understand better the causes of the two conditions and how they can be prevented.