New research proves how stress during pregnancy may raise the risk of asthma in children. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston have investigated differences in immune function markers in cord blood between infants born to mothers in high stress environments and nfants born to mothers with lower stress. They have found marked differences in patterns that may be associated with asthma risk later in life.
“This is the first study in humans to show that increased stress experienced during pregnancy in these urban, largely minority women, is associated with different patterns of cord blood cytokine production to various environmental stimuli, relative to babies born to lower-stressed mothers,” said Rosalind Wright, M.D., M.P.H., associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The findings have been published online in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Asthma is known to be more prevalent among ethnic minorities and among disadvantaged urban communities, but the disparity is not completely explained by known physical factors. Urban women living in the inner-city also experience significant stress, particularly minority women. This research may finally be shedding some light on why this difference has occurred.
The role of stress in asthma development is poorly understood, but animal studies have suggested that the mother’s stress during pregnancy can influence the offspring’s immune system, starting in the womb.