We are often told that allergies and allergic asthma are inherited disorders and that there is probably nothing that can be done about our children developing them as they grow up. Well, the more we learn about genetics, the more we are coming to realise that genes can be switched on or off due to environmental triggers. When your baby is in utero their DNA is very susceptible to environmental signals, which is why it is so important that you understand how your choices will affect your children’s health down the track. 5 recent scientific studies looked at links between maternal food intake and environment and infant/child outcomes for asthma and allergies
- Taking the right probiotics – Probiotics such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and L. rhamnosus HN001 have both been studied and found to reduce the incidence of eczema in children born to supplemented mothers. L. Rhamnosus HN001 was also effective in reducing allergic disease (diagnosed by skin prick test) in children born to supplemented mothers. Probiotics are bacteria that when consumed send healthy signals to the immune system – discouraging a ‘rampant response’ like we see in allergic conditions. It is likely through this action that probiotic consumption by mums helps reduce allergic issues in children. Mum’s are advised to start with these specific probiotics at least 3 months prior to birth and continue through breastfeeding[i].
- Keep your sugar intake to a minimum – high maternal sugar intake is associated with an increased risk of allergy and allergic asthma. Children of mothers who consumed the highest amount of ‘free sugar’ (sugar added to cooked foods, honey, syrups and fruit juice), compared with the lowest amount had a 38% increased risk of allergy and 101% increased risk of allergic asthma[ii]. Women in the lowest group consumed 1.6-34.0 g sugar per day vs women in the highest group who consumed 82.4 – 345.1 g sugar per day.
- Avoid plastics – in mothers who’s urine was examined for phthalates, the concentration of phthalate found directly correlated to occurrence of allergic asthma in their children. Researchers think that the plastic chemicals switch off genes required for regulating the immune system and this might be how plastic exposure is linked to allergic asthma[iii].
- Get dad healthy before you start trying – Fathers who have been smokers have 3 times higher risk of having children with early-onset asthma than those who have never smoked. In this article, the authors suggest that the amount of time the father have quit for prior to conception does not necessarily influence the risk of the outcome for the child, but we do know that we can positively influence gene expression with a super healthy diet, lots of nutrients and stress reduction. This same article noted that paternal exposure to welding also increased the risk of asthma[iv]. Make sure that you have both of you on a comprehensive preconception program for 3-6 months before getting started with baby making.
- Eating nuts – research shows that eating peanuts (so long as you don’t have an allergy to them) during pregnancy may reduce the risk of nut allergies in your children[v]
So keep in mind that you do have an influence over your children’s health outcomes. We certainly do not know everything that will have a positive or negative effect on our babies, but we can use the information that we do have to make informed decisions to get the best possible outcomes for our little bundles of joys.
[i] Kalliomäki M, Salminen S, Arvilommi Het al. Lancet 2001;357(9262):1076-9.
[ii] Bedard A, Northstone K, Henderson, JA, Shaheen SO. European Respiratory Journal. 2017:50; 1700073
[iii] Jahreis S, Trump S, Bauer M et al. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2017.
[iv] Svanes , Koplin , Skulstad AM, et al. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2016
[v] Frazier AL, Camargo CA, Maslpeis S, et al. JAMA Pediatrics, 2013