FRIDAY, Sept. 26, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Babies who start eating fish before the age of 9 months have a lower risk of developing eczema, new research shows.
The study, reported in a recent issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood also found that one in five infants suffer from the skin condition in western Sweden.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation in 2000 for children at risk for eczema that parents hold off on various foods until they were older, including eliminating fish until they turned 3, said Dr. Sandra McMahan, an assistant professor of internal medicine with the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and an allergist/immunologist at Scott & White.
In 2008, the academy reversed many of those recommendations, saying that children as young as 4 months to 6 months could have various foods, including fish, as there was no convincing evidence of harm.
Now it appears fish might actually make a positive difference.
"There has been a been a fear of early fish introduction, especially in infants with a family history of allergic disease," said study author Dr. Bernt Alm, a pediatrician with The Queen Silvia Children's Hospital, University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden. "We have been afraid that this could lead to eczema and other allergic diseases. With this new knowledge, it is possible to relieve the parents from the burden of this fear," Alm said.
The proportion of allergic disease, including atopic eczema, has increased dramatically in developed countries in recent years. Although heredity is a strong factor in the development of such conditions, environmental and dietary factors also play a role.
These findings line up with previous research showing that mothers who fill up on apples and fish during pregnancy might protect their children from developing asthma and allergic diseases.
The authors of this study relied on medical records, as well as questionnaires filled out by parents when their children were 6 months of age and 1 year. All children were born in western Sweden in 2003.
By 12 months of age, almost 21 percent of infants had eczema or had experienced it previously. The average age of onset was 4 months.
The strongest risk factor was a family history, particularly children of mothers and siblings who had had eczema.
Infants who started eating fish before 9 months of age, however, were 25 percent less likely to be affected. Children who lived in a household with a bird were also less likely to develop eczema, possibly because birds are usually kept inside, exposing children continuously to endotoxin, toxins found inside pathogens.
The type of fish consumed had no effect on the risk of developing eczema, suggesting that omega-3 fatty acids, as had been proposed earlier, had nothing to do with the benefit.
Breast-feeding, the age at which dairy products were included in the diet, and having a furry pet were neutral in their effect.
Gerber doesn't produce any fish preparations, so Alm suggested that fish be slowly introduced together with other solids, preferably in puree form at about 5 months to 6 months of age.
McMahan sees many ethnic parents, such as the Vietnamese, give fish early in a mush or stew to their children.
Given that both U.S. and European recommendations on the subject have recently been revised, added McMahan, "this gives researchers a really good opportunity to start following this and see if makes a difference or not."
The Nemours Foundation has more on eczema in children.