Pregnancy and Stress Causes Asthma in Kids?

Stressed out pregnant women may be putting their babies at risk for developing asthma.

Researchers compared the cord blood of infants born to moms in high stress environments to moms in lower stress situations, and discovered certain differences in immune function markers that could be linked to asthma risk later in life.

Together, 557 families were involved in the study, mostly ethnic minorities, and 20 percent of who were living below poverty level. Each baby’s mother or father had a history of asthma or allergy.

To get their data, researchers first isolated immune cells from the blood and then exposed them to different stimuli, like dust, viruses and bacteria. They then looked at how many cytokines those cells produced as an indicator of how well the child’s immune system responded.

This is the first study in humans to show that increased stress experienced during pregnancy in these urban, largely minority women, is associated with different patterns of cord blood cytokine production to various environmental stimuli, relative to babies born to lower-stressed mothers.

It has been known that asthma is occurs more among ethnic minorities and disadvantaged urban communities, but the difference in risk cannot be completely attributed to known physical factors.

The current findings suggest that psychological stress is involved in programming of the infant immune response and that this influence begins during pregnancy. As these infants mature, we will learn how these factors manifest later in terms of the development of asthma and allergy.

Source: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published online March 2010

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