In Part 1 we looked at how the avoidance of allergenic foods as a preventative for the development of childhood allergies in young children is not working. If fact, this strategy has largely been removed from most health guidelines. It seems that the question of what to eat when pregnant holds more promise as an effective way of warding-off childhood allergies!
There is mounting evidence that what you eat when pregnant is critically important to early childhood development in a number of ways. Allergy prevention may be one of them.
Key to prevention is an understanding of the environmental factors driving the increasing prevalence of allergenic disorders. Babies’ systems are especially vulnerable to the effects of adverse exposure. The epidemic of allergy in young children is one of the clearest indicators that the early immune system is affected by environmental change. We don’t know the exact causes. However, it’s probable that they include “more pro-inflammatory ‘western-style’ diets, environmental contaminants and pollutants and maternal transmission of antigens during pregnancy or soon after”.
Eating organic foods, produced without pesticides and herbicides, may be one way of reducing some of these environmental factors
Because differences in the immune function are evident at birth, there is intense interest in the prenatal factors that may be alternatively programming the developing immune system in pregnancy. There is a lot of interest in the role of “microbials” as an essential stimulus for normal immune development in early life. Most studies have focused on postnatal effects, but there is emerging evidence that there are effects on the baby while it is still in the womb. These effects may be the result of certain things the mother eats while pregnant making the unborn baby’s genes “express” themselves. That is, turn them “on” or “off”.
So far, the main diet-based prevention strategies have been probiotic supplements in pregnancy and/or infancy. Despite more than 19 randomised controlled trials to assess the effects of probiotics in allergy prevention there are still no definitive benefits or recommendations. This is frustrating, but this area of research has shown in animal studies that maternal diet can have epigenetic effects on immune function. This highlights that pregnancy provides an important window of opportunity for disease prevention and that diet may be a useful non-invasive strategy.
Other dietary factors that have been linked to allergic disease including antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc and selenium, vitamin D and folate. Vitamin D has been attracting increasing attention due to the recent epidemiologic studies from Australia and the US that reported an association between the lower expose to sunlight/UVB in the northern hemisphere and anaphylaxis in children. The researchers proposed that: “vitamin D deficiency in a developmentally critical period increases the susceptibility to colonisation with abnormal intestinal microbial flora and gastrointestinal infections, contributing to… inappropriate expose of the immune system to dietary allergens” Once again, trials are ongoing.
In the face of these tantalising findings, it seems only logical to suggest that eating a healthy, balanced diet in pregnancy is a smart thing to do. Organic foods are obviously a good choice for pregnant mothers and it’s a regime that you can continue with your little one to promote healthy, mindful eating from an early age.
After an appropriate period of breastfeeding, which itself is very helpful in strengthening a baby’s immune system, Bellamy’s Organic has a range of organic baby formulas and first foods to help.
If you’d like to know more about baby formula, cereals and our other products click on this link. It will take you straight to our on-line store.
The information in this article was sourced from a paper whose abstract is available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22189254