Objective: Due to inconsistent results based on dietary intake data, unsaturated fatty acids in red blood cell (RBC) membranes and diet were used to investigate their association with allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis.
Design: Cross-sectional, population-based study.
Setting: Bavarian Nutrition Survey II (2002-03), Germany.
Subjects: A total of 568 adult participants, 325 women and 243 men.
Methods: By means of logistic regression models, the relation of fatty acids to (i) allergic sensitisation as defined by means of specific serum immunoglobulin E analysis (CAPSX1 class > or = 2), and (ii) self-reported allergic rhinitis was examined.
Results: A high cell membrane level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5 n-3) was inversely associated with allergic sensitisation, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) and 95% confidence interval (95% CI) were 0.52 (0.30-0.90) for the highest (vs lowest) quartile. A similar effect was observed for allergic rhinitis with an OR (95% CI) of 0.50 (0.24-1.03; P = 0.027 for trend). A higher dietary intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3 n-3) was associated with a decreased risk of allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis with ORs (95% CIs) of 0.51 (0.28-0.93) and 0.43 (0.20-0.93), respectively, in the highest quartiles. No other dietary or cell membrane unsaturated fatty acid was significantly associated with the outcome variables, nor was the n-6/n-3 ratio. The strongest effects were observed among subjects under the age of 40 y.
Conclusions: In this cross-sectional study among adults, a high content of n-3 fatty acids in RBC membranes (EPA) or in the diet (ALA) is associated with a decreased risk of allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis.