Prenatal Inflammation during Pregnancy Predicts Risk of Asthma

August 22, 2011 | Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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 Prenatal Inflammation during Pregnancy Predicts Risk of Asthma
It is now crystal clear that crucial times for gene programming (epigenetic settings) occur in the womb, during the first few weeks of life, and also during the first few years of life. Parents have a responsibility to help their children get started on a healthy path. While it is possible to make changes to epigenetic settings later in life, it is not so easy. It is much better to start off with a good dealing of the epigenetic deck. Too much inflammation influencing epigenetic settings is responsible for the rise of the asthma epidemic.

The latest data supporting this new picture of asthma comes from a study of 6,945 Finnish teenagers, linking their current level of asthma and asthma symptoms to various factors occurring with the mother at time of pregnancy.

While many inflammatory factors contribute to the risk for asthma, the single factor that stood out in this study was a mother who was overweight at the time of entering pregnancy. The heaviest mothers had a 47 percent increased risk of having a teenager with asthma. The risk rises about 3 percent for each kilo (2.2 pounds) of extra weight the mother is carrying when she becomes pregnant.

Being overweight is a highly inflammatory health situation for the mother. This inflammation uses the cytokine language that speaks to gene signals of the fetus as the baby is setting up shop, influencing how the immune system establishes itself. The bottom line is that excess inflammation programs the immune system to be too hyper, resulting in increased asthma risk.

Although the obesity issue was the most dramatic risk the researchers identified, they all found that other inflammatory factors contributed to the risk. These included being brought up by a single parent; a genetic predisposition; and being a smoker or having a mother who smoked during pregnancy.

I have previously reported that stress also programs gene settings to be hyper and increases the risk, with divorce of one’s parents as the single most stressful event leading to a child’s asthma. Other environmental factors like dust also contribute. Antibiotics early in life that disrupt the digestive competence of the child set the stage for hostile bacterial or Candida overgrowth, directly contributing to asthma risk. And the lack of anti-inflammatory nutrients like DHA, magnesium, and vitamin D also increase risk for the problem.

The picture is now clear. Too many inflammatory influences compared to a stable living environment and good anti-inflammatory nutrition, set the stage for a hyper immune system prone to asthma and many other health problems.

It is the responsibility of parents who have a child with asthma to try to fix the situation, not just place them on an endless drug regime that never addresses the source of the problem. This requires work, as it is a combination of providing a stable living environment, teaching stress management and problem-solving skills, fixing digestive problems, and ensuring a high quality diet that is loaded with anti-inflammatory nutrients. There is little margin for parenting error if epigenetic settings are to be retrained so that the immune system is not hyper as a way of dealing with life.

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