Is the worst Northern Hemisphere allergy year yet? For most people those who have endured before and newcomers to the yearly sniffling, coughing jumble which communicates springtime it feels like there are far more allergies and allergens now than ever before.
They are not really wrong: contagious diseases are rising in the Northern Hemisphere. Nearly one in both Europeans has a food or environmental allergies, and the two have grown in frequency and severity during the previous ten years. Many allergies begin in youth.
To find out more about how kids become contagious as soon in life, I researched the way the environment can impact the risk of developing respiratory allergies (the whole study will be released in forthcoming months in a particular issue of the journal Mechanisms of Ageing and Development about epigenetics).
Although genetic predisposition is a significant risk factor, specialists also have known for a while that what pregnant women breathe and eat may affect their unborn infants. The past decade has witnessed additional scientific evidence of this connection between a mother’s lifestyle and diet during pregnancy along with also the well-being of her child later in life.
Recent results in a Flemish birth cohort study taking a look at moms and their kids, which was funded by the Flemish Government and coordinated with a leading European independent research and technology firm VITO, revealed an association between exposure to traffic-related air pollutants prior to arrival (mostly nitrogen dioxide as well as also the particle PM10) and also the development of asthma symptoms or wheezing in age-old toddlers.
Other recent studies give an explanation for the connection: epigenetic DNA methylation changes caused by environmental elements.
Let us split the science-speak down a little bit. Our DNA or genetic pattern determines how we seem and, to some degree, our character. Epigenetics which is, all of non-genetic alterations “on” genes which don’t alter the DNA sequence itself accounts for the rest of the details.
When epigenetic DNA methylation happens, it usually means that methyl groups (-CH3) are inserted on the DNA, which impacts the manner genes express themselves which is, the way they act.
For example, mothers-to-be that are vulnerable to chemical compounds or have a less-than-ideal diet like the modern Western diet that is dominated by processed foods which are low in antioxidants however rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids particularly during the first phases of pregnancy, may change the DNA methylation patterns in their infants’ DNA, turning some genes on and off others, and thus increasing the infant’s risk of allergies.
Such epigenetic modifications are, to some degree, reversible. Studies indicate that epigenetic changes causing greater body fat can be reversed by dietary supplementation with vital nutrients like choline, betaine and folic acid.
However, it seems that intense or chronic exposure, as can happen if there’s starvation, overeating or substance exposure during pregnancy, can change the epigenetic pattern so intensively that it renders a more permanent “markers” on the kid’s DNA.
This mark could be passed to another generation, thus increasing their risk of illness more in the very start of life and emphasizing the crucial importance of health care in raising healthy future generations.
Lately, we detected an association between the modified DNA methylation patterns in several of those genes and vulnerability to traffic-related air pollutants through pregnancy of mothers in addition to throughout the child’s lifetime until age 11. This implies that these allergy-related epigenetic changes may be caused by early life exposures to air pollutants.
Considering that the identified genes have a regulating function in allergic disease responses, they may be of interest to research for further development of some diagnostic screening applications. If compound exposures and consequent changes in DNA methylation patterns could be discovered early in life, approaches to stop chemical residues or the threat to acquire allergy (or both), especially in children, might be developed at different levels like reviewing laws on air pollution limitations or planning at a greater education of potential parents.