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D.iet & H.ealth : C.hildren & W.omen Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Low prenatal vitamin E may raise childhood asthma risk
By Kathy Jones
Sep 2, 2006, 13:18

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2 Sept, ( - Women whose vitamin E intake during pregnancy is below par may be putting their babies at an increased risk of childhood asthma, a new study suggests.

The study by UK researchers is a continuation of an earlier study, which had found increased incidence of wheezing in two-year-old children, whose mothers did not take adequate amounts of vitamin E during pregnancy. At the age of five, the same children were more likely to have asthma, the University of Aberdeen researchers said.

"This is part of a body of work that indicates that sufficient vitamin E intake is probably important," said study lead author Dr. Graham Devereux in the paper published in the September issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The study included 1,250 pregnant women attending neo-natal clinics in Scotland between 1997 and 1999. The dietary intake of all the would-be mothers was noted down from the beginning of their pregnancy. Medical histories for presence of asthma, wheezing and related respiratory issues were also checked out.

The researchers found that the dietary intake of essential nutrients like vitamin C, beta-carotene, magnesium, copper, and iron did not have any role in the development of asthma risk. But low intake of vitamin E during pregnancy was linked to a greater risk of childhood asthma in their offspring.

But the children's own dietary intake at the age of five did not seem to affect their risk for asthma. "The results of the present study suggest that dietary modification or supplementation during pregnancy to reduce the likelihood of childhood asthma warrants further investigation," Devereux said.

Researchers also found that the children of mother's whose vitamin E pregnancy intake was at the bottom were five times as likely to suffer childhood asthma as children of mothers whose vitamin intake was at the top of the dietary charts.

Children of mothers whose vitamin intake was relatively poor were also at an increased risk of developing persistent wheezing in the first five years of their life. The researchers said that a child's diet may not influence the asthma risk because fetal airways are almost fully developed in the first-16 weeks after conception. This means that ensuring an adequate vitamin E intake early on in pregnancy assumes importance.

But the researchers cautioned women from tanking up on vitamin E supplements. "It should be strongly emphasized that women should eat healthily during pregnancy and not take vitamin E supplements just because of this study," Devereux said, adding that more research was need to confirm their findings.

Reacting to the study Dr. Arun Jeyabalan, an assistant professor in the division of maternal fetal medicine at the University of Pittsburgh's Magee Women's Hospital said it was an important finding. "However, women should be very careful about supplementation. Not all vitamins in high doses are good for anybody, and further study is needed before advocating any kind of vitamin E supplementation."

Some of the main sources of Vitamin E are margarine, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, vegetable oil, wheat germ, whole grains, and fortified cereals. The growing incidence of childhood asthma in the Western world has encouraged researchers to focus on the role played by antioxidants in the condition.

Recently two studies in the journal Thorax found that higher intake of fruit and vegetables could reduce the risk of asthma in adulthood. Vitamin supplements may not provide adequate levels of natural nutrients for the body. While there is no doubt that supplements pay a vital role in overall nutrition, fruits and vegetables are an important part of the diet during pregnancy.

Pregnant women should try to eat 7 or more servings of fruits and vegetables combined (for example: 3 servings of fruit and 4 of vegetables) daily, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), a pregnant woman needs only 300 calories a day more than she did pre-pregnancy.

Women should be careful during pregnancy since what they eat affects the future development of their child.

The current findings ""are consistent with the notion that early life nutrient intake, both in utero and in the early postpartum period, modifies the risk of developing childhood asthma. Maternal nutrient intake during pregnancy could modulate the development of asthma by influencing fetal airway development."

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