With up to 10% of children suffering with asthma, parents are naturally keen to know what they can do to prevent their children from developing either asthma or another allergy. An interesting study came out recently in the Journal of Physiology which suggests that a maternal diet containing Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) may influence the development of the immune system of the unborn child so he or she is less likely to suffer from allergies. Before we go any further, I should point out that this study was carried out in piglets, rather than humans. But they do say that the porcine gut is a good model of the human, so these results are certainly interesting.
Supplementing with a group of PUFAs called n-3 PUFAs made the newborn gut more permeable. This would enable bacteria and other substances to pass through the gut lining to the bloodstream more easily. Which, in turn, may help the immune system develop and mature faster which could protect the child from kid's allergies. Previous research has suggested that intake of n-3 PUFAs in pregnancy also helps with the maturation of the central nervous system of the child. There have also been studies that suggest fish and walnut oil supplements during pregnancy to help protect from kid's allergies. This new study sheds light on the possible mechanism of this protective effect.
Unfortunately, intake of n-3 PUFAs in the Western diet has been going down in recent years, according to one of the researchers in this study. The n-3 PUFAs are found in fish and in nut and flaxseed oils, but there's been a trend towards using corn oil which contains different fatty acids. So, although there's no official recommendation as yet, if you are pregnant or planning to be, you might want to consider adding flaxseed oil, eating more fish, or taking a fish oil supplement.
Meanwhile, if your child does have kid's allergies, it is important to keep in mind that there are allergens in some vaccines - but in general - the benefit of having the vaccine outweighs the risk. But do alert your doctor if your child is allergic to eggs (some vaccines are still manufactured in eggs) or some other vaccine component. Generally, the vaccine can still be given, but medical supervision might be needed. If your child suffers with asthma, a flu vaccine will be important as colds and flu are triggers for around 90% of people, including kids, who have asthma. It's recommended that all children with asthma aged over 6 months who require the use of a preventer (continuous or repeated) or who are on oral steroids, should get the seasonal flu vaccine. The recommendation also applies to any child over 6 months who has been admitted to hospital with a lower respiratory tract infection.
Leading allergy specialists also agree that allergen avoidance should be practised year in and year out, limiting your child's overall exposure to allergy and asthma triggers.
Source: F. De Quelen et al N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the maternal diet modify the post-natal development of nervous regulation of intestinal permeability in piglets, Journal of Physiology 2011
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