No Escaping Your Past

How fetuses grew in the womb influences allergies, asthma in kids, according to study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A child's chances of developing allergies or wheezing is related to how he or she grew in the womb, according to new research from the University of Southampton.

Fetuses that develop quickly in early pregnancy but falter in later pregnancy are more likely to develop allergies and asthma as children, according to the study. Fetuses that grow too slowly in the womb are also more likely to become infants who wheeze with common colds more often, possibly due to narrower air passageways in the lungs.

"Childhood allergies and asthma have become an epidemic in developed countries over the last 50 years," said Keith Godfrey, Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development at the University of Southampton. "This research shows that in order to combat this, we need to understand more about how babies develop in the womb."

Godfrey said scientists already know that a baby's growth in the womb influences susceptibility to obesity and heart disease in later life, but said this research provides some of the most direct evidence yet that, "changes in how the baby's immune system and lungs develops before birth can predispose them to some of the most common childhood illnesses."

Compared with a 4-percent rate for fetuses that developed slowly in early pregnancy and faster in later pregnancy, 27 percent of those that developed quickly at first then faltered in later pregnancy showed sensitivity to common allergies aka atopy--an allergic hypersensitivity affecting parts of the body not in direct contact with the allergen.

Researchers looked at more than 1,500 three year-old children taking part in the Southampton Women's Survey -- the largest study of its kind in the United Kingdom -- which compiles data related to how a woman's diet and lifestyle before and during pregnancy affects their baby's growth in the womb and how these early-life influences determine the offspring's health and development.

Professor Stephen Holgate from the Medical Research Council said these findings will help lead to developments and treatments for infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases and allergies. Respiratory conditions rank as the most commonly reported long-term illness in children and infants. Nearly 9 million children suffer with asthma in the United States alone.

 "Unravelling the complex interplay between immunity and disease, over the course of a person's life, including before they are even born, is a core part of the MRC's research strategy," Holgate said.

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Review Date: 
December 6, 2010
Last Updated:
December 6, 2010