LONDON — For children, asthma is one of the leading causes of hospitalizations and trips to the emergency room. It’s estimated that 1 in 12 children — or about 6 million kids across the U.S. — suffer from the respiratory condition, according to the CDC. Increasing evidence shows that a healthy diet could be a potential therapy for childhood asthma. Recent research reveals that children who eat more fish may be less prone to the disease.
Studies have shown that most adult cases of asthma begin in childhood. Now, British scientists conclude that eating plenty of salmon, mackerel and sardines can decrease the risk of kids developing the illness. Scientists say that those who consume the most can cut the risk of developing the life-threatening condition in half.
In the U.S., families with children aged 2-19 manage the least intake of fish, with only 6% having it twice a week. This is compared to the U.K. in which families with children aged 5-11 eat the least amount of fish, with only 25% having it twice a week.
Previous research suggests that children with asthma who follow a Mediterranean diet enriched with fatty fish have better lung function. Seafood is abundant in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Oily varieties, which also include kippers, trout and fresh tuna, have the most.
“Asthma is the most common chronic condition in childhood and we currently don’t know how to prevent it. It is possible a poor diet may increase the risk of developing asthma, but until now most studies have taken ‘snap-shots’, measuring diet and asthma over a short period of time,” says the study’s senior author Seif Shaheen, a professor at Queen Mary University in London, in a statement. “Instead, we measured diet and then followed up with children over many years to see who developed asthma and who didn’t.”
Eating more fish can do more than just help prevent asthma
The study included data from more than 4,500 British children. Those in the top quarter for fish consumption had a 51% lower risk than peers in the bottom. Also, the gene variant FADS (fatty acid desaturase) was carried by over half. This common mutation increases omega-3 fatty acid metabolism in the blood.
The most common fatty acids known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) work to reduce inflammation. The study used food frequency questionnaires to estimate the intake of EPA and DHA from fish in children from 7 years old. This was compared to the rate of new cases of doctor-diagnosed asthma in those children at 11 to 14.
“Although 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 … to consume more fish, as few currently achieve recommended intake,” says Shaheen.
Study results were confirmed in an independent cohort of people born in Sweden. Other studies have found that regular consumption of oily fish lowers the risk of heart attacks and strokes, thereby triggering blood fats by more than a quarter.
Professor Shaheen’s team, which included colleagues at the universities of Bristol and Southampton and the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, now plan to see if eating fish can stave off asthma attacks.
The results were published in the European Respiratory Journal.
SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.