Parallel increases in many inflammatory diseases over the last 40 years suggest that common environmental changes are promoting inflammatory immune responses and/or inhibiting the processes that normally keep these in check. One key change during this period has been declining intakes of anti-inflammatory dietary factors, including omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA). As allergic diseases often first manifest in early infancy, prevention strategies need to be targeted early, even in utero. This review will examine recent evidence for the use of fish oil during this early period as a primary prevention strategy for allergic disease.

N-3 PUFA have well documented anti-inflammatory effects in vitro and have also been demonstrated to have health benefits in a range of chronic inflammatory diseases, including cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, supporting their role in modulating inflammation in vivo. Although the effects of fish oil supplementation in established allergic disease are less convincing, there is accumulating evidence that dietary n-3 PUFA may have greater effects before allergic responses are established.

Supplementation of the maternal diet in pregnancy with n-3 PUFA may provide a non-invasive intervention with significant potential to prevent the development of allergic and possibly other immune-mediated diseases.