PUFA status at birth and allergy-related phenotypes in childhood: a pooled analysis of the Maastricht Essential Fatty Acid Birth (MEFAB) and RHEA birth cohorts

Br J Nutr. 2018 Jan;119(2):202-210. doi: 10.1017/S0007114517003348.


Lower prenatal exposure to n-3 PUFA relative to n-6 PUFA has been hypothesised to influence allergy development, but evidence remains largely inconsistent. In the Dutch Maastricht Essential Fatty Acid Birth (MEFAB) (n 293) and Greek RHEA Mother-Child (n 213) cohorts, we investigated whether cord blood phospholipid PUFA concentrations are associated with symptoms of wheeze, asthma, rhinitis and eczema at the age of 6-7 years. Information on allergy-related phenotypes was collected using validated questionnaires. We estimated relative risks (RR) and 95 % CI for associations of PUFA with child outcomes using multivariable generalised linear regression models. In pooled analyses, higher concentration of the n-3 long-chain EPA and DHA and a higher total n-3:n-6 PUFA ratio were associated with lower risk of current wheeze (RR 0·61; 95 % CI 0·45, 0·82 per sd increase in EPA+DHA and 0·54; 95 % CI 0·39, 0·75 per unit increase in the n-3:n-6 ratio) and reduced asthma risk (RR 0·50; 95 % CI 0·31, 0·79 for EPA+DHA and 0·43; 95 % CI 0·26, 0·70 for the n-3:n-6 ratio). No associations were observed for other allergy-related phenotypes. The results were similar across cohorts. In conclusion, higher EPA and DHA concentrations and a higher n-3:n-6 fatty acid ratio at birth were associated with lower risk of child wheeze and asthma. Our findings suggest that dietary interventions resulting in a marked increase in the n-3:n-6 PUFA ratio, and mainly in n-3 long-chain PUFA intake in late gestation, may reduce the risk of asthma symptoms in mid-childhood.

Keywords: FAME fatty acid methyl ester; MEFAB Maastricht Essential Fatty Acid Birth; RR relative risk; Asthma; Childhood; Cord blood; Eczema; PUFA; Rhinitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Eczema / epidemiology
  • Fatty Acids, Essential*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / blood*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Greece / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / blood*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Respiratory Sounds
  • Risk


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