Background  Maternal supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) may modulate immune responses and allergy in neonates and children.

Objective  To determine if n-3 PUFA supplementation during pregnancy and lactation reduces risk for childhood allergic disease. Search strategy  We searched Medline and all evidence-based medicine reviews for randomised controlled trials comparing the effects of n-3 PUFA and placebo supplementation during pregnancy and/or lactation on childhood allergic diseases and inflammatory cytokines.

Selection criteria  We included studies reporting on food allergy, response to the egg skin prick test (SPT), atopy and asthma in infancy and childhood as well as production of interleukin-13 and interferon-gamma, two cytokines involved in the pathogenesis of asthma. For assessment of inclusion, two authors reviewed all abstracts for suitability and independently extracted data.

Data collection and analysis  Two-by-two tables were constructed and odds ratios (OR) were calculated for the outcomes: response to the SPT, food allergy, atopy and asthma in childhood. The assays differed so data on inflammatory markers were reported in narrative form.

Main results  Five randomised controlled trials (n = 949) were included. n-3 PUFA supplementation during pregnancy reduced 12-month prevalence of positive egg SPT (two trials, 12/87 versus 32/100, OR 0.33, 95% CI 0.16, 0.70) and childhood asthma (two trials, 10/303 versus 17/179, OR 0.349, 95% CI 0.154, 0.788) and significantly reduced cord blood interleukin-13 levels. Supplementation during lactation did not prevent asthma, food allergy or atopy.

Conclusion  n-3 PUFA supplementation during pregnancy decreases childhood asthma and response to SPT.