Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

3rd International Immunonutrition Workshop

Session 5: Early programming of the immune system and the role of nutrition

Is there a role for fatty acids in early life programming of the immune system?

21–24 October, 2009, The 3rd International Immunonutrition Workshop, Platja D'Aro, Girona, Spain.

Philip C. Caldera1 c1, Lefkothea-Stella Kremmydaa1, Maria Vlachavaa1, Paul S. Noakesa1 and Elizabeth A. Milesa1

a1 Institute of Human Nutrition and Institute of Developmental Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, IDS Building, MP887 Southampton General Hospital, Tremona Road, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK


There may be a causal relationship between n-6 PUFA intake and allergic disease and there are biologically plausible mechanisms, involving eicosanoid mediators of the n-6 PUFA arachidonic acid, that could explain this. There is some evidence that high linoleic acid intake is linked with increased risk of atopic sensitisation and allergic manifestations. Fish and fish oils are sources of long-chain n-3 PUFA and these fatty acids act to oppose the actions of n-6 PUFA. It is considered that n-3 PUFA will protect against atopic sensitisation and against the clinical manifestations of atopy. All five epidemiological studies investigating the effect of maternal fish intake during pregnancy on atopic or allergic outcomes in infants/children of those pregnancies concluded protective associations. Epidemiological studies investigating the effects of fish intake during infancy and childhood on atopic outcomes in those infants or children are inconsistent, although the majority of the studies (9/14) showed a protective effect of fish. Fish oil provision to pregnant women is associated with immunologic changes in cord blood. Provision of fish oil during pregnancy may reduce sensitisation to common food allergens and reduce the prevalence and severity of atopic dermatitis in the first year of life. This effect may persist until adolescence with a reduction in prevalence and/or severity of eczema, hayfever and asthma. Fish oil supplementation in infancy may decrease the risk of developing some manifestations of allergic disease, but whether this benefit persists as other factors come into play remains to be determined.

(Online publication May 13 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Philip C. Calder, fax 44 2380 795255, email