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Eating a balanced diet is important for everyone, and especially for women who are pregnant. A recent study now suggests that what mom eats while pregnant can have long term implications for her baby’s immune system and may affect the baby’s risk of developing allergies later in life.
If you are pregnant you’ve probably received a long list of do’s and don’ts for what to eat during this important time in your baby’s development. Omega-3 fatty acids have long been recognized as important for the heart, immune system, brain, eyes, and central nervous system.
Research published in The Journal of Physiology suggests that a certain group of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in fish, walnut oil, and flaxseed can affect how a baby’s gut develops. The researchers believe the PUFAs improve how immune cells in the baby’s digestive system respond to bacteria and other foreign substances.
Previous studies have suggested a similar connection but have not identified why the PUFAs provided the beneficial effects. The new study found that certain PUFAs known as n-3PUFAs can change how the baby’s gut develops which can lower the risk that the child will develop allergies later.
The presence of n-3PUFAs in mom’s diet cause the newborn’s gut to be more permeable, which means bacteria and other substances are more easily able to pass between the gut and the bloodstream. Because these substances are able to enter the bloodstream, they trigger an early response to develop antibodies which may later prevent an allergic reaction from occurring.
Dr. Gaëlle Boudry of the INRA research institute in Rennes, France said, "The end result is that the baby’s immune system may develop and mature faster - leading to better immune function and less likelihood of suffering allergies." The study was performed on piglets, which the research team says provide a good model of the human gut. Further studies will be needed to ensure the same results can be achieved in human babies.