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How pregnancy diet affects newborn allergy risk [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

Researchers in France have identified a potential link between the food consumed by women during their pregnancies and the risk of their children developing allergies. The findings, published in The Journal of Physiology, show that if a mother's diet contains a specific group ...
How pregnancy diet affects newborn allergy risk
Researchers in France have identified a potential link between the food consumed by women during their pregnancies and the risk of their children developing allergies. The findings, published in The Journal of Physiology, show that if a mother's diet contains a specific group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), including those found in fish, walnut oil or flaxseed, the baby's gut develops differently. Scientists believe PUFAs help improve the way gut immune cells respond to bacteria and foreign substances. This in turn mitigates the risk of a baby suffering from allergies.

Past studies found that fish and walnut oil supplementation in pregnant women cuts the risk of allergy in children. The piece of the puzzle that was missing, however, was the mechanism behind this connection.

In this latest study, the researchers show how when the diet of pregnant women is being supplemented with n-3PUFA, their newborn baby's gut will be more permeable. The more permeable a gut is, the more accessible the baby's bloodstream is to bacteria and foreign substances. These new substances kick-start the immune response of a baby, and in turn lead to the production of antibodies.

'There is intense research interest in maternal diet during pregnancy,' explains co-author Dr Gaëlle Boudry of the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in France. 'In the western diet, the group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that we have shown to help gut function are actually disappearing - our dietary intake of fish and nut oils is being replaced by corn oils which contain a different kind of fatty acid,' she says.

'Our study identifies that a certain group of polyunsaturated fatty acids - known as n-3 PUFAs - causes a change in how a baby's gut develops, which in turn might change how the gut immune system develops. These changes are likely to reduce the risk of developing allergies in later life.

'The end result is that the baby's immune system may develop and mature faster - leading to better immune function and less likelihood of suffering allergies.'

These latest findings further substantiate past studies that showed how an intake of n-3 PUFAs during pregnancy intensifies gestational length and maturation of the central nervous system of a baby. The data also indicate how the babies' performance in mental tasks is improved in childhood.

'Other studies have found that a diet containing fish or walnut oil during pregnancy may make your baby smarter,' Dr Boudry says. 'Our research adds to this, suggesting such supplements also accelerate the development of a healthy immune system to ward off food allergies.'

The researchers plan to further their investigation by assessing whether the apparent gut-function-boosting effects of n-3PUFA that they discovered in newborn babies is also active when they get older.
Source: The Journal of Physiology; National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA)

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Record Number: 33795 / Last updated on: 2011-09-12
Category: Miscellaneous
Provider: EC