Four in ten babies in Australia will develop asthma or allergies due to a dramatic incidence in these diseases over the last 20 to 30 years and researchers at The University of Western Australia are hoping a safe, simple, natural dietary supplement - fish oil - may hold the key to prevention.
Professor Susan Prescott, head of the research group in UWA's School of Paediatrics and Child Health, and research fellow Dr Jan Dunstan are calling for pregnant women with a family history of allergy to sign up their unborn babies for the study.
More than 340 women are enrolled and the researchers are seeking another 60.
A previous study found that giving pregnant women fish oil supplementation resulted in newborns with reduced immune responses to allergens such as house dust mites, cats and eggs.
Professor Prescott and Dr Dunstan believe one reason for the prevalence of asthma and allergies is the decline in dietary n-3 anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) such as fish oil in Western diets with a corresponding increasing in n-6 PUFA fatty acids.
They hope to study the effects of fish oil supplementation on newborns at regular intervals until the children are five years old, with a control group being administered an identical-tasting olive-oil placebo.
"The supplements will be supplied as a capsule containing 650mg fish oil, which will be given to the baby by squirting it into their mouth or on a teaspoon and this will not interfere with the mother's choice to breast feed," Professor Prescott said. "The fishy taste will be disguised with vanilla flavouring.
"The bigger population to be recruited for this study will allow us to determine if increasing dietary n-3 PUFA is a way of reducing the chance of allergy in families where there is a high genetic risk.
"Strategies such as this that reduce the risk or the severity of disease expression could have enormous impact in a global context at relatively little cost."
For information about the trial call: +61 8 9340 8834 or email: www.paediatrics.uwa.edu.au/go/cair