Further Evidence That Prenatal Exposure to Stress May Increase the Risk of Asthma Development in Later Life

stress and pregnancy

A recent study published in the BioMed Research International journal suggests that maternal stress during pregnancy is able to increase offspring risk and susceptibility to asthma.

Previous research indicates that prenatal and early-life stress can modify infant immune function in the long-term, including conferring a higher risk for childhood asthma (MK Pincus-Knackstedt et al., 2006; AL Kozyrskyj et al., 2011) most likely driven via a stress-induced Th2 shift (IJ Elenkov & Chrousos GP, 1999; von Hertzen LC, 2002).

In January 1998, the Quebec Ice Storm, considered one of the worst natural disasters in Canada’s history, left millions of people without electricity for up to 40 days.This event, through the McGill University’s Project Ice Storm provided almost unique opportunity to study the long-term effects of in utero exposure to prenatal maternal stress on various aspects of the children’s development from birth through childhood.

Anne-Marie Turcotte-Tremblay and colleagues from the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre and the McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada were able to follow a cohort of women who were pregnant during the disaster and have conducted regular assessments of their children. Last year, in 2014 they published their observations in the BioMed Research International journal.

In their follow up of the children at the age of 11 to 12 years, the authors found that the offspring of the mothers who reported that they had suffered high levels of stress during pregnancy were more likely to be diagnosed with asthma, had higher incidences of wheezing, and used more inhaled corticosteroids. Interestingly, asthma symptoms were observed in girls; but not in boys.

The reason for these stress-related sex-specific asthma outcomes is not entirely clear, but the authors discuss previous experimental research suggesting that prenatal stress may affect the male and female offspring differently. Thus, increased anxiety, depression and higher stress response are much common in female offspring; whereas, male offspring suffer much more with learning and social disabilities (V Glover & Hill J., 2012).

The relatively small study supports previous evidence that maternal stress during pregnancy contributes to fetal programming of the immune system, and indicates that further studies along these lines are warranted.

Source: Biomed Res Int, 2014, ID201717. DOI: 10.1155/2014/201717

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