A pregnant woman’s sugar intake may increase her future babies’ risks of developing allergies and allergic asthma, a new study says. Previous research has shown a link between high sugar consumption and asthma in kids, but this is the first to include the mothers’ diets in the equation.
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London examined data from close to 9,000 women who were pregnant in the 1990s, and their children. The kids were tested for asthma and common allergies at seven years old, TIME reports. During their pregnancies, the women were asked about their weekly diets, focusing on specific food items like sugar, coffee and tea.
The answers were used to calculate how much sugar each mom consumed, excluding natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables or dairy products.
There was very little evidence linking women’s added sugar intake to the children’s risk for developing asthma on the whole. But when they looked at allergic asthma, the association was stronger: kids whose mothers were in the top fifth for more sugar eaten during pregnancy were twice more likely to have allergic asthma compared to kids whose moms were in the bottom fifth.
The children of women with high-sugar diets also proved to be 38% more likely to test positive for an allergen, and 73% were more likely to test positive for two or more. The researchers considered control factors that could have affected the mothers’ diets, such as social aspects.
However, not all allergies were linked to sugar consumption. There were no associations for hay fever and eczema, and contrary to other research, there was no link between the children’s own sugar intake at age four to their health at age seven.
The authors theorize that consuming more sugar during pregnancies may increase inflammation in an infant’s developing tissue, leaving the kids susceptible to allergies when they are born. Annabelle Bedard, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Primary Care and Public Health at the university and lead author on the study, says,
We know that the prenatal period may be crucial for determining risk of asthma and allergies in childhood, and recent trials have confirmed that maternal diet in pregnancy is important.
Bedard thinks high-fructose corn syrup may be the primary reason for the additional sugar intake. She says, “The dramatic ‘epidemic’ of asthma and allergies in the West in the last 50 years is still largely unexplained. One potential culprit is a change in diet.”
The authors say that more research is needed, and they hope to conduct clinical trials to further validate their findings.
The study was published in the European Respiratory Journal.