Eating fish in childhood can halve the risk of developing asthma

Eating plenty of salmon, mackerel and sardines in childhood can halve the risk of developing asthma, study suggests

  • Data from a study of over 4,500 children born in the 1990s in the UK was used
  • They found that just 25 per cent of homes with young children eat fish regularly
  • One in 11 youngsters in the UK are receiving treatment for asthma, they found 

Regularly eating salmon, mackerel and sardines as a child can halve the risk of developing asthma as you get older, according to a team of scientists. 

Queen ‘Mary University of London researchers studied data from 4,500 children born in the 1990s in the UK – that have been monitored by scientists since birth.

Those who consume the most of the omega-3 heavy fish were less prone to developing the life-threatening respiratory illness, according to new research.

In the UK young families that include children aged five to 11 consume the least amount of fish – with just 25 per cent of homes having it at least twice a week. 

One-in-eleven youngsters – 1.1 million children – are receiving treatment for asthma and most adult cases begin in childhood, according to the Queen Mary researchers.

Those in the top quarter for fish consumption had a 51 per cent lower risk of developing asthma than their peers who consume the least oily fish. Stock image

Senior author Professor Seif Shaheen said: ‘Asthma is the most common chronic condition in childhood and we currently don’t know how to prevent it.

‘It is possible a poor diet may increase the risk, but until now most studies have taken ‘snap-shots’, measuring diet and asthma over a short period of time.

‘Instead, we measured diet and then followed up children over many years to see who developed asthma and who didn’t.’

Seafood is abundant in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Oily varieties – which also include kippers, trout and fresh tuna – have the most.

The finding is based on more than 4,500 participants in the Children of the 90s programme that has tracked the lives of youngsters born in south-west England to learn more about diseases – including asthma.

Those in the top quarter for fish consumption had a 51 per cent lower risk of developing asthma than their peers who consume the least oily fish.

It applied to individuals with the gene variant FADS (fatty acid desaturase) – carried by over half of the children involved in the study.

The common mutation slashes levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. 

Known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), these genetic mutations cut inflammation.

Seafood is abundant in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Oily varieties – which also include kippers, mackerel, trout and fresh tuna – have the most

The study published in the European Respiratory Journal estimated intake of EPA and DHA from fish at seven years old from food frequency questionnaires.


Most of the health claims surrounding fish oil involve the essential fatty acid omega-3.

Omega-3 is thought to have a positive, anti-inflammatory effect, which can benefit a number of heath conditions and protect people from disease. 

It is found in rich quantities in the flesh of oily fish including salmon and trout.   

These acids are important because the body cannot make them itself, so they much be provided by diet or supplements.   

Previous research has indicated that fish oil is most effective in supporting heart and brain health as well as reducing joint pain. 

This was compared to the rate of new cases of doctor-diagnosed asthma at 11 to 14.

 Shaheen said: ‘Whilst we cannot say for certain that eating more fish will prevent asthma in children, based on our findings, it would nevertheless be sensible for children in the UK to consume more fish.’

The results were confirmed in an independent cohort of people born in Sweden.

Shaheen’s team – which included colleagues at the universities of Bristol and and Southampton and the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm – now plan to see if eating fish can stave off asthma attacks in people who already have the condition.

The NHS spends around £1 billion a year treating and caring for people with asthma.

Previous research has found children with asthma who follow a Mediterranean diet enriched with fatty fish have better lung function.

Evidence is growing that a healthy diet could be a therapy for childhood asthma. 

Other studies have found regular consumption of oily fish lowers heart attack and stroke triggering blood fats by more than a quarter.

Omega- 3 fatty acids are also known to boost mood and slash risk of depression.

They are essential for the brain and body to function properly – preventing dementia, diabetes and arthritis.

Dr Alister McNeish, Associate Professor in Cardiovascular Pharmacology, University of Reading, said the success of oily fish in reducing asthma risk is down to genes.

‘This interesting data indicates that higher rates of early childhood of fish consumption and thus omega-3 fatty acid consumption appears to be associated with a lower rate of asthma; but only in children who have a common gene make up that is associated with lower levels of omega-3 in the blood (FADS genotype).

Dr Alister McNeish, Associate Professor in Cardiovascular Pharmacology, University of Reading, said the success of oily fish in reducing asthma risk is down to genes. Stock image

‘In the cohort as a whole and children who do not carry this gene-make up the link between fish consumption and asthma does not occur, which is consistent with previous cohort studies where no link was found between fish consumption and asthma.’

‘These findings do not constitute proof that eating more fish in childhood prevents asthma,; said McNeish, adding that ‘levels of omega-3 consumption in the UK are often below recommended levels.’

‘The observations are consistent with other areas of omega-3 research such as in the cardiovascular system where a beneficial effect is often only seen in people with low intake or low blood levels omega-3s.’ 

The findings have been published in the European Respiratory Journal.


Asthma may not be an obvious cause of a heart attack – it affects the respiratory system (airways), not the cardiovascular system (arteries). 

But studies have shown that asthma can double the risk of a heart attack.

The reason for the link is unclear, but likely boils down to inflammation and swelling.  

Asthma, an inflammatory disease of the lungs, causes the lining of air passages to swell, restricting the flow of oxygen through the body. It affects more than 25 million Americans, according to CDC data. 

This in turn can affect blood flow. 

A study by the Mayo Clinic in 2014 found that anyone who has sought asthma treatment in the last year, or who has suffered regular symptoms for a year, has double the risk of a heart attack. 

The study eliminated people who also suffered COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which is common in asthma sufferers and increases the risk of a heart attack by restricting oxygen flow. 

‘People think the lungs and heart and very separate organs but actually they are very inter-related,’ Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, told Daily Mail Online. 

‘A severe asthma attack can strain your heart, and the issue is two-fold. 

‘First, it is the lack of ability to exhale oxygen. The person is unable to properly oxygenate their body. When we are breathing, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Asthma sufferers are unable to exhale enough carbon dioxide and that can build up. The heart is then working harder than it usually would to compensate.

‘Second, the heart is unable to send blood to the brain because it doesn’t have enough oxygen.’


Erica Garner suffered a fatal heart attack in December. 

It was not her first heart attack.

The young activist suffered her first shortly after giving birth; during her pregnancy she’d been diagnosed with an enlarged heart (peripartum cardiomyopathy). 

Asthma is the most common life-threatening condition for pregnant women. 

It can lead to high blood pressure, premature birth and death. It can also affect a baby’s development, birth weight, and can cause stillbirth. 

Restricted oxygen flow is also the primary causes of peripartum cardiomyopathy, which is exacerbated by the baby’s need for oxygen and essential nutrients. 

Dr Parikh agreed: ‘It’s a combination of factors; it’s never just one thing.’

Dr Parikh says she always warns patients that even those who are best medicated have double the risk of a heart attack, and 10 Americans a day die of asthma.

‘I want to drive the point home that you cannot take your asthma diagnosis lightly,’ Dr Parikh said. ‘You need to work with your doctor to find the right medication for you because it can be fatal.’ 

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