Diet high in polyunsaturated fats may increase risk of asthma in young children

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last Updated: 2001-07-18 19:01:17 EDT -Reuters Health

WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) – Preschool-age children who consume a diet high in polyunsaturated fat appear to be at twice the risk of developing asthma compared with those who consume low levels, Australian investigators report.

Dr. M. M. Haby, of the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, and associates conducted a questionnaire survey of parents of 974 children between the ages of 3 and 5 in 1995. As reported in the August issue of Thorax, the prevalence of recent asthma was 22% in a humid coastal city of New South Wales and 18% in a dry inland city.

A diet high in polyunsaturated fat, defined as the use of such fats on bread and in cooking, was associated with an adjusted odds ratio for asthma of 2.03 compared with a diet low in polyunsaturated fats. The investigators estimate that diet could account for up to 17% of asthma cases in the study population.

They hypothesize that increased consumption of polyunsaturated fats increases the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are implicated in the increased synthesis of prostaglandin E-2, they say, leading to increased inflammation and perhaps to asthma.

"The evidence for an effect of fatty acids on asthma is increasing and, if the relationship is found to be causal, there is potential to modify fatty acid consumption patterns to reduce the incidence of asthma," the investigators conclude.

Of the risk factors tested, they report, the other important modifiable factor was breastfeeding, which substantially reduced the risk of asthma (odds ratio 0.41).

Thorax 2001;56:589-595.

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