Environmental factors can change the genes of a fetus, leading to illness later in childhood.
When a pregnant woman takes Acetomeniphen (Tylenol) or is exposed to tobacco smoke, spray cleaners or pesticides, her fetus has a greater chance of devloping atopic asthma within a few years.Nonatopic asthma, wheezing, and shortness of breath is often diagnosed starting at age 3 or even up to age 8. A series of recent studies indicate that the disease is strongly related to environmental factors during pregnancy.
Dr. Harold Nelson discussed the epigenetic factors in atopic asthma at the World Allergy Organization’s 2010 International Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“How can something that happens in the uterus have an impact on asthma in the child aged 6, 7, or 8? The explanation, if it is causal, is in epigenetic mechanisms,” Dr. Nelson explained. “Early environmental exposure in utero plays a key role in activating and altering genes through histone methylation and acetylation of DNA, and alteration of chromatin structure. Once these have occurred in the fetus, they will be replicated throughout the infant’s life, and may even be passed to subsequent generations.”
In other words, environmental factors can directly affect genes, leading to chemical changes that inhibit their correct expression or even alter DNA. These changes trigger diseases that the child would not normally have developed. The rate of asthma in the US has doubled, and the increased use of acetomenophen among pregnant women could be a major factor in the increase.
Low levels of Vitamin D in pregnant women are also associated with increased nonatopic asthma. Even when levels are high enough to prevent rickets, they may still be too low to prevent asthma. Eating a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil, dairy products and fatty fish helps ensure high levels of Vitamin D in the mother.
European studies have shown that maternal use of domestic cleaning chemicals during pregnancy is associated with wheezing and impaired lung function in children up to 8.5 years of age.
Richard Lockey, MD, president of the WAO and director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida, said that “Probably the most compelling evidence for such an association is with passive smoking, smoking, and with newer information, particularly acetaminophen.”