Babies regularly fed fish in their first year of life are much less likely to develop common allergies when they get older, new research shows.
Scientists who monitored babies’ diets found many of those that ate plenty of fish early in life were much more likely to still be free of allergies 12 years later, when the study ended.
Their chances of developing eczema dropped by 22 per cent, and hay fever by 26 per cent.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggest giving fish to infants as little as two or three times a month may be enough to substantially reduce their risks.
Eczema affects an estimated one in eight children in the UK.
It can cause red, itchy skin condition that can be very distressing and there are few very effective treatments.
In the worst cases, children have to be bandaged with cotton dressings from head to foot.
They are 22 per cent less likely to develop eczema and 26 per cent less likely to get hay fever
Hay fever, meanwhile, is thought to affect up to one in five youngsters.
Both conditions are also linked with an increased risk of asthma.
Although previous research has suggested early exposure to fish in the diet could have a protective effect up to the age of four, researchers wanted to see if the benefits lasted even longer.
Experts at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, tracked 3,285 babies to study their dietary intake at the ages of one, two, four, eight and 12.
They also looked at how many went on to develop allergies.
The results showed fish plays a big part in dietary patterns among Swedish infants, with 80 per cent consuming it at least twice a month.
Among these children, the risk of allergies dropped significantly compared to others that rarely or never ate fish.
However, the study did not examine exactly which type of fish had the most potent affect.
In a report on their findings researchers said: ‘Regular fish consumption in infancy may reduce the risk of allergic disease up to the age of 12.’