Background: A diet rich in fish or cod oil might possibly reduce the risk for asthma and atopic diseases. However, previous studies show conflicting results and no studies have assessed the potential long-term effects of childhood fish intake on adult asthma.
Objective: To investigate whether childhood and adult fish and cod oil intake was related to adult asthma.
Methods: In a large population-based study, Respiratory Health in Northern Europe (RHINE), 16 187 subjects aged 23-54 years answered a postal questionnaire. The relations of fish and cod oil intake with asthma symptoms and asthma were analysed using multiple logistic and Cox regression analyses, with adjustment for gender, adult hayfever, smoking, age, body mass index, household size, dwelling, parental education and centre, and for maternal smoking and family history of hayfever and asthma in a subsample (n=2459).
Results: Subjects from Iceland and Norway reported much more frequent intake of fish both in childhood and adulthood as compared with subjects from Sweden, Estonia and Denmark. Current fish intake less than weekly in adults was associated with more asthma symptoms, while more frequent fish intake did not appear to decrease the risk further. No dose-response association was found between childhood fish intake and adult asthma, but those who never ate fish in childhood had an increased risk for asthma and earlier asthma onset. Adult consumption of cod oil had a u-shaped association with asthma, with the highest risks in those taking cod oil never and daily.
Conclusion: A minimum level of weekly fish intake in adulthood was associated with protection against asthma symptoms in this large North-European multi-centre study. Subjects who never ate fish in childhood were at an increased risk for asthma. Both indicate a possible threshold effect of fish on asthma.