Stress during pregnancy may raise the risk of asthma in offspring, according to a study published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Researchers investigated differences in immune function markers in cord blood between infants born to mothers in high stress environments and those born to mothers with lower stress. They found marked differences in patterns that may be associated with asthma risk later in life.
The researchers recruited pregnant women who were largely from ethnic minority families and 20% of whom lived below the poverty level.
The families answered detailed questions about the various stressors in their lives.
When the infants were born, their cord blood was collected, and isolated immune cells were stimulated with a number of factors, then analyzed for the production of various cytokines as indicators of how the child’s immune system was primed to respond to the environment. Each child’s mother or father had a history of asthma or allergy. The researchers found that the patterns of cytokines related to certain stimulants differed based on the level of stress mothers reported.
“The cytokine patterns seen in the higher stress groups, which are an indication of how the child’s immune system is functioning at birth, may be a marker of increased risk for developing asthma and allergy as they get older” said Rosalind Wright, MD, MPH, associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The research will continue as the infants grow up in order to determine whether maternal stress levels do indeed have an impact on asthma development.