SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA. Childhood asthma is now a major health problem in Australia with 31% of West Australian children having been diagnosed with the condition. Chronic inflammation of the airways is also a major problem with 12% of the population reporting wheeze severe enough to disturb sleep. Studies involving Australian school children have shown that those who consume oily fish more than once a week have a significantly reduced risk of asthma.
Australian researchers now suggest that the epidemic of childhood asthma is associated with a change in the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio in the Australian diet. It used to be around 5:1, but is now 15:1 or higher. They recently concluded a study of 355 school children of which 166 had been diagnosed with asthma at 6 years of age and the remaining 169 acted as asthma-free controls. A comparison of the two groups showed that the significant risk factors for asthma were:
After adjustment for other known risk factors the risk of asthma was 2.89 times higher among children with an average dietary omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 18 than among children with a ratio of 8. The researchers believe that the benefits of a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids are due to the inclusion of more EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the two main components of fish oil.
Oddy, W.H., et al. Ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and childhood asthma. Journal of Asthma, Vol. 41, No. 3, 2005, pp. 319-26