NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A Mediterranean-type diet may protect children from developing asthma and allergic rhinitis — better known as hay fever — research suggests.

The results of the study conducted in Mexico “provide additional evidence of the benefits of healthy dietary habits and support the need for public health measures to promote a healthy diet among children,” according to the study team.

Diet during pregnancy and childhood is thought to play an important role in children’s asthma risk. In the current study, researchers examined the association between both children’s diet and their mother’s diet during pregnancy, and the development of asthma and allergic rhinitis in a random sample of 1,476 children aged 6 to 7 years old.

Among children, greater adherence in the previous year to a Mediterranean diet — that it, one high in vegetables, fruits and nuts, legumes, fish and cereals, and low in dairy products, meat, junk food and fat — was associated with less asthma, wheezing, allergic rhinitis, sneezing and itchy-watery eyes.

Dr. Isabelle Romieu from Instituto Nacional de Salud Publica de Mexico in Morelos and colleagues report their findings in the journal Allergy.

The researchers did not find an association between consumption of a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy and reduced risk of asthma or allergic rhinitis in children.

The suggestion that a Mediterranean diet may protect against asthma is biologically plausible, Romieu and colleagues note in their report. This type of diet is rich in antioxidants that can protect the lung and airway from oxidative damage. It is also rich in fish, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and light in omega-6 fatty acids. This ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids has been shown to reduce harmful levels of pro-inflammatory proteins, which are often increased in asthma sufferers.

SOURCE: Allergy, September 2008.