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Prenatal pro-oxidant exposures, protective prenatal nutrients and asthma in adolescence

Published online: August 19, 2019

Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting approximately 6 million children in the United States alone. Prenatal exposures, experienced while the child is still in the womb, shape immune system development in ways that could shift a child’s susceptibility to asthma and allergies. Some beneficial prenatal factors, such as a pregnant mother’s intake of nutrients and antioxidants, may help guard against asthma development. Other prenatal factors, such as maternal smoking in pregnancy, maternal obesity and prenatal air pollution exposure, may enhance a detrimental condition known as “oxidative stress” (an overproduction of reactive and potentially damaging molecules called free radicals). Prenatal oxidative stress may increase risk of asthma and other chronic diseases in children. Researchers have hypothesized that protective prenatal nutrients may help counteract the adverse effects of oxidative stress.  

In their article in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) Sordillo and colleagues explored the impact of prenatal antioxidants and prenatal sources of oxidative stress on asthma and allergy development. For their analysis, they used data from Project Viva, a large “pre-birth” population study with over 900 participants followed through adolescence. The authors determined whether prenatal factors, including nutrient intakes and prenatal exposures, were associated with future development of asthma and allergies. Two of the hypothesized pro-oxidant prenatal exposures considered (maternal smoking and air pollution) showed clear associations with increased risk of allergic disease in adolescence. Interestingly, Sordillo and colleagues found that prenatal antioxidants were not associated with reductions in allergies or asthma. However, two key prenatal nutrients, Vitamin D and n-3 (omega-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), did appear to protect against development of allergic rhinitis and asthma.  While these nutrients have been shown to be protective in other studies that followed children through early childhood, the present work by Sordillo and investigators suggests that the protective benefit of prenatal Vitamin D and n-3 PUFAs may extend through adolescence.   

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.