Women who consume a large amount of sugar when they’re pregnant may find their children at an increased risk for allergy and allergic asthma, according to researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
The study, titled “Maternal intake of sugar during pregnancy and childhood respiratory and atopic outcomes,” was published in the European Respiratory Journal.
Previous research supports a link between a high intake of beverages containing large amounts of sugar and asthma in children. However, the association between maternal sugar intake during pregnancy and allergy and asthma in their children had not been studied in-depth.
Researchers used data from a world-leading birth control study, called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), or “Children of the ’90s,” led by the University of Bristol.
The Queen Mary study involved almost 9,000 mother-child pairs who had been recruited in the early 1990s and whose development had been under observation ever since.
The team analyzed possible associations between maternal intake of free sugars in pregnancy and allergy or allergic asthma in their child at 7 years old. Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides that are added to foods or drinks by manufacturers, and sugars naturally present in foods like honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit juices.
Evidence of an association between maternal free sugar intake and asthma overall was weak. However, there was a strong positive association with allergy and allergic asthma, a condition in which the child is diagnosed with asthma and has positive skin tests to allergens.
The 20 percent of mothers with the highest sugar intake had an increased risk of 38 percent for allergy in their children and a 101 percent increased risk for allergic asthma, compared to the 20 percent of mothers with the lowest sugar intake.
The authors wondered if these associations could be related to a high maternal intake of fructose — the natural sugar present in fruit, for instance — which could trigger an allergic immune response after birth that led to the development of allergic inflammation.
“We cannot say on the basis of these observations that a high intake of sugar by mothers in pregnancy is definitely causing allergy and allergic asthma in their offspring. However, given the extremely high consumption of sugar in the West, we will certainly be investigating this hypothesis further with some urgency,” Prof. Seif Shaheen, the study’s lead author, said in a news release.
She emphasized that association is not the same as causation, and that this is merely an observational study.
“The first step is to see whether we can replicate these findings in a different cohort of mothers and children,” Shaheen said. “If we can, then we will design a trial to test whether we can prevent childhood allergy and allergic asthma by reducing the consumption of sugar by mothers during pregnancy. In the meantime, we would recommend that pregnant women follow current guidelines and avoid excessive sugar consumption.”