A SIGNIFICANT link between maternal free sugar intake and allergic asthma in offspring has been discovered. Previous studies have linked childhood asthma with a high intake of sugary soft drinks; however, the association between maternal sugar intake and risk of asthma in newborns has not been fully investigated. As a disease estimated, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to affect 18.4 million adults and 6.2 million children in the USA, this finding may provide a vital step in preventing childhood asthma.
The team of researchers, led by Prof Seif Shaheen, Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK, investigated ~9,000 mother-child pairs who were part of a UK cohort study, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, 1991–1992. By using a food frequency questionnaire, the mothers, who were in their third trimester, were asked about their consumption of monosaccharides and disaccharides, as well as naturally occurring sugars. Once born, the offspring were tested for allergens that may cause allergic asthma, such as dust mites, cats, and grass.
Following examination of the data, Prof Shaheen and colleagues found a causal link between mothers’ free sugar intake during pregnancy and allergic asthma in the offspring. Although there was not enough evidence to link free sugar intake to overall asthma, the researchers showed there was a 101% increase in the risk of allergic asthma in children born to those mothers who reported the highest sugar intake in this cohort. Based on this significant finding, the team hypothesised that a mother’s high consumption of fructose may cause a persistent postnatal allergic immune response in the child, resulting in an inflammatory environment in the developing lung.
When discussing next steps following this study, Prof Shaheen commented: “The first step is to see whether we can replicate these findings in a different cohort of mothers and children.” She added: “If we can, then we will design a trial to test whether we can prevent childhood allergy and allergic asthma by reducing the consumption of sugar by mothers during pregnancy.” The researchers commented on the urgency of investigating this hypothesis further, due to the high consumption of sugar in the Western World, as well the increasing incidence of asthma in both adults and children.