Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids may boost babies’ immune systems and prevent them developing food allergies later on, according to a new study. However, the claims are based on experiments with pigs and it’s too early to know whether pregnant women would get the same benefits.
Fatty acids are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, as well as pulses, including walnuts, pumpkin seeds and linseeds. But the results don’t mean that you start eating lots of nuts and oily fish (it’s recommended that pregnant women eat no more than two portions of oily fish per week, due to concerns over levels of mercury).
Current NHS guidelines say women are OK to eat nuts in pregnancy if you don’t have a nut allergy or any family history of allergies. However, in the past there have been worries that exposing unborn babies to nuts could increase the risk of a later allergy.
This new study says quite the opposite, suggesting that one of the reasons we have high allergy levels is because these foods are less commonly eaten in Western diets than in the past.
“Our study shows that a certain group of fatty acids causes a change in how a baby’s gut develops and how the gut immune system develops,” explained Dr Gaelle Boydry, from the research team in France. “The end result is that the baby’s immune system may develop and mature faster – leading to better immune function and less likelihood of suffering allergies.”
This study used piglets rather than human babies, but researchers believe that the animal’s intestine is an “excellent model of the human gut” and hope this study will help to start further investigation into how mums-to-be can best help their babies before they’re born.