Asthma

Updated 19 July 2017

Moms with low vitamin E risk having asthmatic kids

A new study found that pregnant mothers with low levels of vitamin E had a higher risk of giving birth to children who would later develop asthma.

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Dealing with asthma in children younger than five can be problematic, as standard asthma test are difficult to administer in young children and symptoms may be caused by other conditions.

Kids born to moms with low levels of vitamin E might be more likely to develop asthma, new research suggests.

The findings of the study were scheduled to be presented at the AAAAI annual meeting, in Atlanta, and published simultaneously in a supplement of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

When moms had low levels of a specific type of vitamin E measured right after birth, their children were more likely to develop wheezing and to have been treated with asthma medications in their first two years of life, the study found.

A major concern in SA

According to a recent report by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), South Africa has the world’s fourth highest asthma death rate among five to 35-year-olds. Of the estimated 3.9 million South Africans with asthma, 1.5% die of this condition annually.

“Asthma prevalence in Southern Africa is higher than any other area on the continent, with more than 20% of school children across the region suffering from this condition. In South Africa, asthma is the third most common cause of hospital admissions of children, yet only 2% of asthmatics receive treatment,” says Cipla Medpro Medical Director, Dr Nic de Jongh.

Getting enough vitamin E

"The major sources of vitamin E are oils" such as sunflower, safflower, corn, soy and canola oils, study lead author Dr Cosby Stone said in a news release from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

Stone said his team's previous research in mice had suggested the link between vitamin E and asthma. Stone is with Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

"We hypothesised that maternal vitamin E levels, reflecting levels that the foetus encounters during pregnancy," would affect how kids breathe, he said.

The study tracked the health of more than 650 children and their mothers for the children's first two years of life. The researchers also asked moms specifically about whether their kids had trouble breathing or used asthma medications.

Low levels of alpha-tocopherol

The researchers found that kids who wheezed or needed asthma medications were more likely to have mothers who had lower levels vitamin E just after birth.

Specifically, they had lower levels of a substance found in vitamin E called alpha-tocopherol. Sunflower and safflower oils provide the highest levels of this substance, Stone said.

The study only found an association between vitamin E levels and asthma symptoms, however. It didn't show a cause-and-effect relationship.

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Asthma Expert

Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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