Parents of children with food allergies are in a constant state of hyper-vigilance: School cafeterias, restaurants, and birthday parties can easily trigger problems when food preparation conflicts with their sensitivities. According to Food Allergy Research and Education Network, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized annually for allergic reactions to something they ate, with milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs among the biggest offenders.
New research from Imperial College London may have found one method to turn the tide, New Scientist reports. According to a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine examining data from 1.5 million mothers across 400 studies, those who took a daily fish oil supplement during pregnancy reduced the risk of their unborn child developing an egg allergy by 30 percent. Those who took a probiotic reduced the risk of the skin condition eczema by 22 percent. In two of the studies examined, fish oil was found to reduce peanut allergies by 38 percent—a notable discovery, though from a small sample.
The women who experienced a reduction in their child's egg allergy profile took fish oil beginning in the 20th week of pregnancy and continued after giving birth through three to four months of breastfeeding; those taking probiotics began taking supplements at 36 to 38 weeks and continued for up to six months of breastfeeding. While there's no definitive evidence why these supplements work this way, earlier research has indicated the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can dampen overactive immune systems; probiotics offer exposure to beneficial bacteria.
The study also found that the strategy of mothers-to-be avoiding nuts, eggs, and other common allergens had no effect on whether the child developed a reaction to them.