NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women who eat a Mediterranean diet while pregnant could help stave off asthma and allergies in their children, a new study suggests.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in plant-based foods -- vegetables, fruits, whole grain breads and cereals, legumes, and nuts -- as well as olive oil and fish. Adherents consume low to moderate amounts of dairy products and eggs, lesser amounts of white meat, and infrequently eat red meat.
Some studies have suggested that such eating patterns can lower children’s odds of asthma symptoms and skin and nasal allergies. But it’s unclear whether women can affect their children’s future allergy risks by following a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy.
For the current study, researchers led by Dr. Leda Chatzi of the University of Crete in Greece followed 460 mother/child pairs, from pregnancy until the children were 6 years old.
The researchers found that the majority of mothers scored high in Mediterranean diet quality during pregnancy, while 36 percent had low scores.
“Children from the ‘low score’ group were at higher risk to develop asthma and allergies than counterparts from the ‘high score’ group,” Chatzi told Reuters Health.
For example, she and her colleagues report in the journal Thorax, children whose mothers ate eight or more vegetable servings per week during pregnancy were less likely to develop persistent wheezing. The same was true of children whose mothers ate three or more fish servings a week.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants and healthy omega-3 fats from fish, which together may affect fetal development in a way that lowers the risk of allergies later in life.
Further studies are needed to better understand the biological mechanisms, Chatzi and colleagues say.
SOURCE: Thorax, June 2008.