Maternal stress may lead to asthma

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New research on humans confirms that maternal stress effects the normal development of the fetal immunosystems and may lead to chronic illness including asthma. “This is an intriguing finding,” Dr. Steven E. Lipshultz, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine said about the report published March 18 in the online edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. “It isn’t surprising, preclinical studies have supported this, what’s novel here is it’s the first human study.”

Animal studies suggest that prenatal stress can influence the infant’s immune system in utero. It is also known that asthma occurs most frequently in urban areas, particularly inner cities, where people live in increasingly stressful conditions.

“This is the first human study to corroborate research from animal studies demonstrating that stress experienced by mothers during their pregnancy influences their child’s developing immune system starting in the womb,” said lead researcher Dr. Rosalind Wright, an associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The research may suggest a need for stress reducing techniques particularly for families in urban areas and those with identified stress like poverty, domestic violence and community violence.

For the study Wright’s team selected 557 families mostly from ethnic minority populations, living below the poverty level with one parent having a history of allergy or asthma. After the babies were born, Wright’s team took samples of umbilical blood and tested for reactions to various allergens. Children born to more stressed out moms showed a different immune cell response when stimulated with allergy triggers. These indicators “may be a marker of increased risk for developing asthma as they get older,” Wright said.

But that’s tough to predict. “This study can’t tell you, based on whether a mom is stressed during pregnancy, that the child will be healthier or sicker from asthma or allergic diseases,” concluded Lipshultz. The only way to tell is to follow the children through their development and watch what happens.

This is something Wright’s team intends to do. And those results should be very instructive.

Source: Everyday Health


 
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