Early-life undernutrition is closely correlated with higher risk of asthma in offspring. The early life is critically important for later adult health. Early-life undernutrition leads to growth restriction and it can be responsible for impaired lung development and respiratory function from the fetal period to adulthood.
Asthma involves chronic allergic airway inflammation characterized by airway hyperreactivity, mucus overproduction, airway wall remodeling and airway narrowing. TH2 cells play a fundamental role. Previous studies have suggested maternal diets, such as high fiber diets and vitamin D supplementation can influence cell functioning in offspring, but the role of maternal malnutrition remains unclear.
The underlying mechanism of asthma susceptibility induced by intrauterine undernutrition is poorly understood. In a recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers reported how undernutrition during pregnancy reprograms cell functions to facilitate asthma as follows:
- Undernutrition during pregnancy promotes TH2 cells (allergy ones) leading to asthma.
- The breakdown of sugar is responsible for increased TH2 cells in the setting of intrauterine undernutrition.
Exposure to a suboptimal early-life nutritional environment can have a long term influence on adults and the formation of asthma. The undernutrition promotes allergy cell proliferation and leads to asthma susceptibility. These findings are in concordance with the current view that asthma has its origins in early life. Maternal diets have the capacity to remodel metabolic pathways and epigenetics within offspring immune cells that can lead to the pathogenesis of other developmental origins of adult disease.
This study was performed in mice, so it may not necessarily translate to humans, but the main conclusions of this study provides insight that what happens early in utero can translate to asthma disease in the offspring. It would be interesting to see if other diseases may in fact have their origins in utero as well. But for now, it seems that asthma can originate even before a child is born.