Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are found in high concentrations in human milk. These lipids are components of cell membranes and have important immunomodulating properties. Dr. Lorella Granni discusses the impact of dietary long chain PUFAs on immunity throughout infancy and early childhood. A cornerstone of her talk is the nutrition hypothesis for explaining the increasing prevalence of atopic diseases. Disruption of the normal fatty acid supply through diet has negative consequences on immune functions. Granni suggests that early intervention with omega-3 PUFAs (such as those found in fish oil) may have beneficial effects, decreasing the incidence of allergic disease in infants.
She highlights the results of several clinical studies including those exploring the synergy between PUFAs and probiotics, but cautions that some of the evidence is inconclusive. Further research needs to be done in order to establish the clinical effects of long- and medium-chain PUFAs on long-term growth and immunity in infants.