Fish oil and probiotic supplements during pregnancy slash infant risk of food allergy by a third and risk of eczema by a fifth


Researchers from Imperial College call for pregnancy dietary advice to be updated in light of findings


A study published today in the journal, PLoS Medicine,[1] has confirmed the benefits of taking fish oil and probiotic supplements during pregnancy. [2]

Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service ( said: “This latest study showed that when pregnant women took a daily fish oil capsule from 20 weeks pregnancy, and during the first three to four months of breastfeeding, their child’s risk of egg allergy reduced by 30 per cent.

“In addition, taking a daily probiotic supplement from 36-38 weeks pregnancy, and during the first three to six months of breastfeeding, reduced the risk of a child developing eczema by 22 per cent. No such benefits were seen for other dietary components.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton adds: “I welcome these new findings which will better inform women who are planning a pregnancy this year. There is already official advice recommending that women take supplements containing folic acid before they try for a baby and take daily vitamin D during pregnancy and breastfeeding. This latest research suggests that if mothers also take a daily fish oil supplement and a probiotic, it may deliver real benefits by lowering children’s risk of food allergy and eczema.

“Fish oils are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which have been shown to programme the foetal immune system to favour less inflammatory compounds. The anti-inflammatory benefits of fish oils have already been confirmed for childhood and adult conditions, such as eczema, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease[3].

“Probiotics are live ‘friendly’ bacteria which help to restore the balance of the mother’s gut during pregnancy. During natural birth, the mother’s bacteria are passed onto the infant helping him/her to establish their own healthy population of bacteria. Studies show that disruptions to normal bacteria colonies can boost the risk of allergy”.

Food allergies affect around one on 20 children, although most are outgrown by the time the child attends school. Both allergy and eczema are auto-immune conditions caused by an overreaction of the immune system to harmless triggers, such as foods or household products. The researchers of this latest study published today noted a rise in the incidence of allergies and as a result further research is needed too into the area of allergy.

In summary and according to the researchers from Imperial College London, the study findings should feed into dietary advice given during pregnancy. It is thought that the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition will also consider the advice as part of its current review of complementary feeding.


[1] Garcia-Larsen V et al. (2018) Diet during pregnancy and infancy and risk of allergic or autoimmune disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med 15(2): e1002507. pmed.1002507

[2] This study is one of the largest ever evaluations of diet and pregnancy, researchers from Imperial College London assessed over 400 studies involving 1.5 million people. The work was funded by the UK Food Standards Agency.