Early life events in asthma—diet


  • Graham Devereux MA, MD, PhD

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
    • Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZB, United Kingdom.
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    • Clinical Senior Lecturer.

    • Honorary Consultant Physician.


It has been hypothesized that the recent increase in the prevalence of asthma may, in part, be a consequence of changing diet. There is now increasing interest in the possibility that childhood asthma may be influenced by maternal diet during pregnancy and/or diet during early childhood. A number of observational studies and a childhood fish oil supplementation study provide little support for the notion that early childhood intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) influence the development of childhood asthma. Recent work however, suggests that supplementation of maternal diet with fish oil is associated with altered neonatal immune responses to allergens. Further work is required to establish whether this immunological observation is translated into clinical outcomes. Two birth cohorts have now reported reduced maternal intake of vitamin E, zinc and vitamin D during pregnancy to be associated with increased asthma and wheezing outcomes in children up to the age of 5 years. Early life diet could modulate the likelihood of childhood asthma by affecting fetal airway development and/or influencing the initial early life interactions between allergens and the immune system. In animal models, vitamin E, zinc and vitamin D have been shown to modify fetal lung development and vitamin E, zinc, vitamin D and PUFA can modulate T-cell responses. Further research, particularly, early life intervention studies need to be carried out to establish whether early life dietary intervention can be used as a public health measure to reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma. Pediatr Pulmonol. 2007; 42:663–673. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.