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Allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis are associated with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet and in red blood cell membranes



Due to inconsistent results based on dietary intake data, unsaturated fatty acids in red blood cell (RBC) membranes and diet were used to investigate their association with allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis.


Cross-sectional, population-based study.


Bavarian Nutrition Survey II (2002–03), Germany.


A total of 568 adult participants, 325 women and 243 men.


By means of logistic regression models, the relation of fatty acids to (i) allergic sensitisation as defined by means of specific serum immunoglobulin E analysis (CAPSX1 class ≥2), and (ii) self-reported allergic rhinitis was examined.


A high cell membrane level of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5 n-3) was inversely associated with allergic sensitisation, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) and 95% confidence interval (95% CI) were 0.52 (0.30–0.90) for the highest (vs lowest) quartile. A similar effect was observed for allergic rhinitis with an OR (95% CI) of 0.50 (0.24–1.03; P=0.027 for trend). A higher dietary intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3 n-3) was associated with a decreased risk of allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis with ORs (95% CIs) of 0.51 (0.28–0.93) and 0.43 (0.20–0.93), respectively, in the highest quartiles. No other dietary or cell membrane unsaturated fatty acid was significantly associated with the outcome variables, nor was the n-6/n-3 ratio. The strongest effects were observed among subjects under the age of 40 y.


In this cross-sectional study among adults, a high content of n-3 fatty acids in RBC membranes (EPA) or in the diet (ALA) is associated with a decreased risk of allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis.


The study was supported by funds of the Kurt-Eberhard-Bode-Stiftung and the Bavarian Ministry of Environment, Health and Consumer Protection.

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We acknowledge the cooperation of the study participants as well as the work of all co-workers involved in the sampling of data and biological specimens. We especially thank the physicians from the health offices in Bavaria for providing study rooms and for drawing the blood samples and Drs Weidner and Gabrio, Landesgesundheitsamt Baden-Württemberg, for IgE measurements.

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Correspondence to J Linseisen.

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Guarantor: J Linseisen was accountable for all parts of the completed manuscript before and after publication.

Contributors: SH—red blood cell analysis, analysis of data, and writing the manuscript. HS—collection and processing of data. JH and IK—significant comments on statistical analysis and interpretation of the results. GN, AN and NB—advice and consultation on data analysis and contribution to the interpretation. KG, GK and GW—fund raising and study design. JL—senior author; responsible for study design, collection and analysis of data, writing the manuscript. All authors commented on the final version.

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Hoff, S., Seiler, H., Heinrich, J. et al. Allergic sensitisation and allergic rhinitis are associated with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet and in red blood cell membranes. Eur J Clin Nutr 59, 1071–1080 (2005).

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  • red blood cell (RBC) membrane
  • diet
  • n-3 fatty acids
  • allergic sensitisation
  • allergic rhinitis
  • adults

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