Umbilical cord and maternal blood red cell fatty acids and early childhood wheezing and eczema

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004 Sep;114(3):531-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2004.05.010.


Background: Few studies have explored whether fetal exposure to n-6 and n-3 fatty acids influences the inception of atopic disease.

Objective: To assess prenatal fatty acid exposures as predictors of early childhood wheezing and eczema.

Methods: In the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, late pregnancy maternal blood samples and umbilical cord blood samples were assayed for n-6 and n-3 fatty acids (percentage of total red cell phospholipid), and mothers were asked about wheezing and eczema in their children. We measured associations of 11 n-6 and n-3 fatty acid exposures with wheezing at 30 to 42 months, with wheezing patterns defined by presence (+) or absence (-) of wheezing during 2 periods, 0 to 6 months and 30 to 42 months (transient infant, +/-; later-onset, -/+; persistent, +/+; n=1191 and n=2764 for cord and maternal analyses, respectively), and with eczema at 18 to 30 months (n=1238 and n=2945 for cord and maternal analyses, respectively).

Results: In cord blood red cells, the ratio of arachidonic:eicosapentaenoic acid was positively associated with eczema (adjusted odds ratio [OR] per doubling, 1.14; 95% CI, 1.00-1.31; P=.044), the ratio of linoleic acid:alpha-linolenic acid was positively associated with later-onset wheeze (OR, 1.30; CI, 1.04-1.61; P=.019), and the ratio of alpha-linolenic acid:n-3 products was negatively associated with later-onset wheeze (OR, 0.86; CI, 0.75-0.99; P=.040). However, these associations were no longer significant after adjusting for multiple comparisons.

Conclusions: It seems unlikely that fetal exposure to n-6 and n-3 fatty acids is an important determinant of early childhood wheezing and atopic disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Eczema / etiology*
  • Erythrocytes / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / etiology*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pregnancy / blood
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Respiratory Sounds / etiology*
  • Umbilical Cord / cytology


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6