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High fibre intake during pregnancy may protect progeny against asthma

Posted:  Friday, July 03, 2015

Ever wondered how the microscopic inhabitants of our large intestine influence our lives? Well researchers from all over the world are going gaga over their beneficial contribution to human health. Findings from a new study revealed that consuming a high fibre diet in pregnancy may reduce the offspring’s risk of developing asthma. This effect is thought to be mediated by alterations in the maternal gut bacteria leading to release of anti-inflammatory compounds that suppress asthma-related genes in the progeny.

These interesting results were published in the journal Nature Communications. The study had a 2 pronged approach: it was conducted among pregnant mice as well as among pregnant human mothers.

- In the first part, the researchers fed pregnant mice one of three diets, namely a high-fiber diet, a moderate-fibre diet or a low-fibre diet, during their third trimester. The adult mice offspring were then exposed to common human allergens such as house dust mites. The researchers found that the offspring of mice fed a high fibre diet did not develop asthma-like symptoms. On further investigation, pregnant mice fed a high fibre diet showed the presence of specific bacteria that produced anti-inflammatory metabolites from fibre digestion. These metabolites travelled through the uterus to the foetus and suppressed the Foxp3 genes implicated in asthma development.

- To observe whether high fibre diet had a similar effect on human mothers, the researchers analysed the blood samples and diet of 40 pregnant women. They also collected data on the frequency of physician visits due to respiratory complaints in their offspring during the first year of life. Akin to the results in mice, mothers consuming a high fibre diet showed the presence of anti-inflammatory metabolites in their blood. The infants of these mothers were significantly less likely to have visited a physician 2 or more times citing respiratory complaints in the first year of life.

In addition to these outcomes, the researchers found that children growing up in farm settings had a much lower risk for asthma. According to the researchers, differences between the urban and rural dietary patterns or exposure to a different microbial milieu could be responsible for this lower risk.

“High fibre suppresses the expression of certain genes in the mouse foetal lung linked to both human asthma and mouse allergic airway disease. Thus, diet acting on the gut microbiota profoundly influences airway responses and may represent an approach to prevent asthma, including during pregnancy,” said the researchers. So, it would be wise to befriend the salad during pregnancy just to ensure good health for the child and the mother!

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