Vicki Martin, Nutritionist and Naturopath
What’s the connection between Vitamin E during pregnancy and childhood asthma?
Asthma is a condition in which someone’s airways become inflamed and narrowed – often causing coughing, wheezing and difficulties breathing. According to the New Zealand Asthma Foundation1, New Zealand has the second highest rate (after the UK) of asthma in the world. One in six kiwis, and one in four kiwi children get asthma symptoms during their lives. And, the Foundation says, it’s the most common cause of hospitalisation for New Zealand children.
Now, a recent Scottish study2 suggests that being low in Vitamin E during pregnancy may make mothers more likely to have an asthmatic child.
Researchers from the University of Aberdeen recruited over 1,800 pregnant women, and followed them and their children for 5 years. The study recorded data about dietary intake from food, and any asthma symptoms that children showed later on.
Results were striking, according to the study authors. Children whose mothers had had the lowest Vitamin E intakes were over five times more likely to have early asthmatic symptoms than children whose mothers had high dietary intakes.
Plus, researchers found that increasing blood levels of Vitamin E through the diet seemed to lead to better general lung function in children. Each increase of Vitamin E levels in the mother’s blood was associated with better lung capacity measurements.
One of the researchers, Dr. Graham Devereux, comments that results suggest improving Vitamin E levels during pregnancy could reduce childhood asthma incidence. “Our findings suggest that Vitamin E has a dual effect on lung function and airway inflammation at periods of prenatal and early life. Healthy lung function was associated with early Vitamin E exposure, whereas allergic airway inflammation was associated with low Vitamin E exposure in pregnancy."
Good dietary sources of Vitamin E include:
Alternatively, a high-quality, natural Vitamin E supplement may be appropriate, so long as it is not too high a dose. Of course, as always, if you are considering supplementing during pregnancy, talk to your midwife or healthcare professional first.
2. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (Vol 174, pp. 499-507).