Polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in infancy for the prevention of allergy

Review question

In infants, does supplementation of the diet with oil high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) result in a decreased risk of developing allergies such as asthma, dermatitis/eczema, hay fever (called allergic rhinitis) and food allergy in infancy and childhood?

Background

Allergy is responsible for a substantial health burden in infants, children and adults. Early dietary intakes may influence the development of allergic disease. Dietary PUFAs, such as fish oil, have a role in inflammatory conditions. It is important to determine if dietary PUFAs given as supplements or added to infant formula have the potential to prevent the development of allergy. PUFAs may be given to the breastfeeding mother, to the infant as a supplement (contents of a capsule) or added to infant formula.

Study characteristics

This review found 100 studies that assessed the effect of higher versus lower intake of PUFAs in infants through searches of medical databases up to September 2015. However, only nine of these studies enrolling 2704 infants reported allergy outcomes (measures). Of these nine studies, we considered only one to be high quality. Five studies reported all allergy as an outcome measure; four studies reported asthma; all nine studies reported dermatitis/eczema; two studies reported allergic rhinitis and four studies reported food allergy.

Key results

PUFA supplementation in infancy did not affect the risk of infant (aged up to two years of age) or childhood (aged up to 10 years of age) allergy, asthma, dermatitis/eczema and food allergy. There was a reduction in the risk of allergic rhinitis during infancy, however, there was no effect on the risk of childhood allergic rhinitis. There is insufficient evidence to determine an effect on allergic rhinitis.

Quality of evidence

We graded the evidence for no effect on infant incidence, childhood incidence and childhood prevalence of all allergy as very low; the reduction in infant incidence of allergic rhinitis as very low; and the evidence for no effect on infant incidence, childhood incidence and childhood prevalence of all other allergic outcomes as very low to low. Further high quality studies are needed before we can determine an effect of higher PUFA intake in infants on the risk of allergic disease.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is no evidence that PUFA supplementation in infancy has an effect on infant or childhood allergy, asthma, dermatitis/eczema or food allergy. However, the quality of evidence was very low. There was insufficient evidence to determine an effect on allergic rhinitis.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Early dietary intakes may influence the development of allergic disease. It is important to determine if dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) given as supplements or added to infant formula prevent the development of allergy.

Objectives: 

To determine the effect of higher PUFA intake during infancy to prevent allergic disease.

Search strategy: 

We used the standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review group to search the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL 2015, Issue 9), MEDLINE (1966 to 14 September 2015), EMBASE (1980 to 14 September 2015) and CINAHL (1982 to 14 September 2015). We also searched clinical trials databases, conference proceedings, and the reference lists of retrieved articles for randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised trials.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials that compared the use of a PUFA with no PUFA in infants for the prevention of allergy.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently selected trials, assessed trial quality and extracted data from the included studies. We used fixed-effect analyses. The treatment effects were expressed as risk ratio (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI). We used the GRADE approach to assess the quality of evidence.

Main results: 

The search found 17 studies that assessed the effect of higher versus lower intake of PUFAs on allergic outcomes in infants. Only nine studies enrolling 2704 infants reported allergy outcomes that could be used in meta-analyses. Of these, there were methodological concerns for eight.

In infants up to two years of age, meta-analyses found no difference in incidence of all allergy (1 study, 323 infants; RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.73 to 1.26; risk difference (RD) -0.02, 95% CI -0.12 to 0.09; heterogeneity not applicable), asthma (3 studies, 1162 infants; RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.80 to 1.35, I2 = 0%; RD 0.01, 95% CI -0.04 to 0.05, I2 = 0%), dermatitis/eczema (7 studies, 1906 infants; RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.82 to 1.06, I2 = 0%; RD -0.02, 95% CI -0.06 to 0.02, I2 = 0%) or food allergy (3 studies, 915 infants; RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.56 to 1.19, I2 = 63%; RD -0.02, 95% CI -0.06 to 0.02, I2 = 74%). There was a reduction in allergic rhinitis (2 studies, 594 infants; RR 0.47, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.96, I2 = 6%; RD -0.04, 95% CI -0.08 to -0.00, I2 = 54%; number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome (NNTB) 25, 95% CI 13 to ∞).

In children aged two to five years, meta-analysis found no difference in incidence of all allergic disease (2 studies, 154 infants; RR 0.69, 95% CI 0.47 to 1.02, I2 = 43%; RD -0.16, 95% CI -0.31 to -0.00, I2 = 63%; NNTB 6, 95% CI 3 to ∞), asthma (1 study, 89 infants; RR 0.45, 95% CI 0.20 to 1.02; RD -0.20, 95% CI -0.37 to -0.02; heterogeneity not applicable; NNTB 5, 95% CI 3 to 50), dermatitis/eczema (2 studies, 154 infants; RR 0.65, 95% CI 0.34 to 1.24, I2 = 0%; RD -0.09 95% CI -0.22 to 0.04, I2 = 24%) or food allergy (1 study, 65 infants; RR 2.27, 95% CI 0.25 to 20.68; RD 0.05, 95% CI -0.07 to 0.16; heterogeneity not applicable).

In children aged two to five years, meta-analysis found no difference in prevalence of all allergic disease (2 studies, 633 infants; RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.19, I2 = 36%; RD -0.01, 95% CI -0.08 to 0.07, I2 = 0%), asthma (2 studies, 635 infants; RR 1.12, 95% CI 0.82 to 1.53, I2 = 0%; RD 0.02, 95% CI -0.04 to 0.09, I2 = 0%), dermatitis/eczema (2 studies, 635 infants; RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.59 to 1.09, I2 = 0%; RD -0.04 95% CI -0.11 to 0.02, I2 = 0%), allergic rhinitis (2 studies, 635 infants; RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.83 to 1.25, I2 = 0%; RD 0.01, 95% CI -0.06 to 0.08, I2 = 0%) or food allergy (1 study, 119 infants; RR 0.27, 95% CI 0.06 to 1.19; RD -0.10, 95% CI -0.20 to -0.00; heterogeneity not applicable; NNTB 10, 95% CI 5 to ∞).

Share/Save