An apple a day keeps the doctor away and fish is brain food, according to ancient proverbs, but allergy fighters? The latest study gives them a decided maybe.
Saskia Willers, a doctoral student at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, presented the findings today at the American Thoracic Society's International Conference in San Francisco.
She looked at questionnaires that mothers of 1212 children filled out when their child was 32 weeks old and then again at five years. The children were also given allergy tests then.
Julie Bhatia of HealthDay News wrote in a syndicated article:
The study found that children of women who ate more apples and fish during their pregnancy were less likely to develop asthma or allergic disease. Specifically, children of women who ate fish once or more a week were 43 percent less likely to have had eczema at age 5 than children of mothers who never ate fish.
Those whose mothers ate more than four apples a week during pregnancy were 37 percent less likely to have ever wheezed, 46 percent less likely to have had asthma symptoms, and 53 percent less likely to have had doctor-confirmed asthma compared to children of mothers who ate one or no apples a week.
"We were quite surprised to see a protective effect of apples, because, to our knowledge, no other study had seen that before," says Willers. "For fish, there is an earlier study that found a protective effect of maternal fish intake during pregnancy on childhood asthma."
No protective effect was found against asthma or allergic diseases from many other foods, including vegetables, fruit juice, citrus or kiwi fruit, whole grain products, fat from dairy products or margarine or other lowfat spreads.
Why? Well, that's the big question. Apples have flavonoids, antioxidants that have been in the news as virtual cure-alls. Still, many of the foods found to have no effect at all also contain flavonoids, so that's not much of an answer.
As for the fish, their omega-3 fatty acids may be their best feature.
They'll be going back to do more testing because no one can yet say how much apple and fish to eat or whether certain types are better or worse than others.
And a big caveat:
Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, adds that pregnant women should be careful about not eating too much fish because of the potential mercury and other pollutants in fish. "The study supports the health benefits of increased fruits, vegetables and fish, but pregnant women need to exercise caution with king mackerel, tilefish, shark and swordfish, and should limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week," she says.