Saturday, 20 March 2010

Stress During Pregnancy Linked to Higher Risk for Asthma in Offspring

The way that our physiology switches genes on or off in response to environmental circumstances/triggers/cues, a process now studied as 'epigenetics' or 'above the genes' is becoming increasingly understood. The way that stressors impact our lives, our genetic expression and our immune system is becoming more and more recognised and obvious as scientists seek to understand the role of the environment in disease profiles. The significance of the prenatal experience in setting the foundations for health and wellness or disease is now recognised as a reality for humans as well as other animal species.

What scientists are discovering as they study the role of the prenatal environment in health and disease, is that high levels of maternal stress during the prenatal period is associated with impaired immune modulation. This study gives further credence to the Barker hypothesis that the prenatal experience is programming the infant's physiology, including the immune system to respond to the environment it will be born into. In the case of children whose mothers experience chronic and high stress levels, they have immune systems that are more vulnerable and more highly triggered by adverse environmental factors.

"In the Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma Study, the investigators evaluated associations among prenatal maternal stress and cord blood mononuclear cell (CBMC) cytokine responses among 557 families in Boston; Baltimore, Maryland; New York City; St. Louis, Missouri, and other cities. Each child had a parent with history of asthma or allergy".
Cytokines are messenger molecules with a complex range of interweaving, intersecting pro inflammatory and anti inflammatory functions.

"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," lead author Rosalind Wright, MD, MPH, associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, said in a news release.

The obvious answer is take care of pregnant women. Reduce the environmental stressors that pregnant women have to negotiate on a day to day basis. Poverty, violence, poor nutrition, unwanted pregnancies, lack of preconceptual care, lack of meaningful, supportive care during pregnancy and birth etc are all environmental risk factors with huge implications for the health and wellbeing of mothers and their babies.

Midwifery care that is provided in a one to one relationship is very beneficial for helping a woman defuse her stress levels. As a woman feels safe with her midwife and as trust builds, discusses her fears, problems and life circumstances, emotional stress is releases and solution generating can begin. Our government needs to heed these studies and provide better care for pregnant women if they truly want better and healthier societies.

Stress During Pregnancy Linked to Higher Risk for Asthma in Offspring

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