Can Pregnant Women Eat Away Asthma for their Children?

We all know that sushi, uncooked meats and alcohol are a no-go during pregnancy. Now, recent studies show that eating more of certain foods could help baby in actually preventing allergies, especially the all-too-common problem of asthma.

Christopher C. Chang, MD, who specializes in rheumatology, allergy and clinical immunology at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, has been tracking studies that suggest a woman’s prenatal diet can boost her child’s immunity to asthma, which now affects 6.2 million children. He cites a recent study that shows that most beneficial are the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, lake trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at the effects of supplementing pregnant women’s diets with n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, or n-3 LCPUFA, in the form of fish oil from salmon and other omega-3 rich fish. Study authors randomly assigned 736 pregnant women to receive either supplementation or placebo during pregnancy, and then examined the incidence of asthma during the first three years of life.

Remarkably, the study found that in the supplementation group, the risk of permanent asthma was 16.9 percent, seven percent points lower than the rate in the placebo group, who received olive oil instead. This meant those who took the supplements had children who were 30 percent less likely to get asthma.

Dr. Chang notes that the direct correlation is still difficult to pinpoint. While he does state that this is exciting news that confirms other studies on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in allergic diseases, it should be noted that the authors found no difference in asthma attacks or another concern–eczema. Also, it should be noted that another study found that there was a weak, but possible link between heavy sugar consumption and asthma.

Still more studies suggest a Mediterranean diet of fresh foods, vegetables, beans and lean protein protects against allergies, although most physicians would say that it’s simply a good food regimen for every stage of life, including pregnancy.

And there are investigators who are looking into probiotics, which encourage good bacteria to grow in the digestive system. Again, the jury is still out on this one, but there are those who believe it’s a good measure for protecting children from allergies.

“When it comes to diet, there have been a multitude of ideas suggesting that certain foods and food supplements, or the amount that we consume may either improve or worsen asthma over the years,” writes Dr. Chang in his article on supplements taken during pregnancy. “Obesity has been linked with asthma, and so has the ingestion of certain types of meats.”

Clearly, more work needs to be done to trace the prenatal impact of certain foods on a number of health concerns. For example, it is believed that foods rich in iron (meat, poultry and fish) are particularly good to increase their red blood cell mass and support brain development in the fetus. Eggs, which are a versatile and a good source of protein that provides essential amino acids, also contain vitamins and minerals, including choline, which is believed to be good for baby’s brain development. However, raw or undercooked eggs are definitely not recommended.

Also, folic acid (typically taken as a supplemental vitamin) is recommended before and during pregnancy to help prevent birth brain and spinal cord problems.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that what we eat, or what we may be exposed to even when still in the womb, may have a profound effect on whether or not we develop allergic diseases and other issues,” writes Dr. Chang. “While this may be true, it is also important to understand that what we know is very limited, and inherent individual genetic differences may play a significant role in determining the degree to which certain foods or supplements may affect us. There is clearly a lot of inter-related factors in operation, and much remains to be discovered. So, stay tuned!”

Learn more from Dr. Chang about childhood asthma:

Kids & Asthma: How to Recognize the Signs

Kids & Asthma: How to Treat it & Prevent Attacks