Babies who first eat fish between six and twelve months of age have a lower risk of developing asthma than babies who are exposed to fish either too early or too late, a new study shows.
Pregnant women are often warned about staying away from seafood containing mercury, but a new Dutch study shows that consuming certain fish during pregnancy and between six and twelve months can reduce the risk of wheezing.
The results were based on more than 7,000 children in the Netherlands and support the theory that early exposure to certain fatty-acids protects against asthma. The lead author of the study, Jessica Keifte-de Jong, writes, “Introduction of fish between 6 and 12 months but not fish consumption afterward is associated with a lower prevalence of wheezing.” Kiefte-de Jong, who works at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, added, “A window of exposure between the age of 6 and 12 months might exist in which fish might be associated with a reduced risk of asthma.”
Many parents stay away from giving their young children seafood out of concern for allergies. Using health and diet information, researchers found that 1,281 children ate fish in their first six months of life, 5,498 first ate fish in the next six months, and 431 did not eat fish until after age one. Researchers then looked at health records for those children — starting around age four — and found that many parents reported that their children were wheezing of short of breath.
“Between 40 percent and 45 percent of parents of children who did not eat fish until after their first birthdays said their children wheezed, compared to 30 percent of children who first ate fish when they were between six and 12 months old,” Reuters reports.
The researchers determined that there is a 36 percent decreased risk of wheezing for the children who first had fish between the ages of six months and one year.
“They found it was only protective between six and 12 months,” said T. Bernard Kinane, chief of the pediatric pulmonary unit for MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston. Kinane was not involved in the study. But he adds, “That would make reasonable sense because that’s when the immune system is getting educated.”
He added that he was “relieved the researchers also found no association between the amount of fish children ate and their risk for asthma,” signifying that even a small amount of fish seems to be helpful to reduce the risk of asthma.
However, Kinane also noted that there is mixed evidence about how helpful early introduction to seafood actually is, and, that while it may be helpful to introduce children to fish between six and 12 months of age, “there could be other factors at work.”
For example, Kanine suggests that families who feed their children fish earlier and more often may be different in a variety of ways from those who do not, suggesting that other factors may lead to breathing issues, not merely lack of fish consumption.
“I think (the study) needs to be validated again,” he said.