Eating a good diet is not just good for you…it has a huge impact on the health of the next generation. The connection between what a mom eats and the health of her children is pretty well established. Here are several prenatal findings that numerous studies confirm:
- When a mom eats a diverse diet, then her children are less finicky about food. (They get subtle tastes of the flavors of what she eat through the amniotic fluid in the womb)
- A mother’s nutritional deficiencies can alter fetal development and gene expression.
- Consuming more omega-3 rich foods (wild caught fish, nuts/seeds, and other sources of “good fats”) during pregnancy will boost cognitive development in the fetus.
- Moms that include fish oil and probiotic supplements during pregnancy lessen the chances that their children will have allergic sensitivities and autoimmune disorders and therefore lower risk of type 1 diabetes, asthma, eczema, and other immune-related diseases.
The link between microbiota and immunity
Why is it that omega-3 and probiotics are so important when it comes to both fetal and early childhood development? A recent meta-analysis, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, helped provide some answers.
In this systematic review, scientists examined the existing medical literature to determine the link between maternal diet (as well as early childhood diets in the first year of life) and the likelihood of autoimmune disorders in her children.
The researchers found that exposure to healthy microorganisms (probiotics) during late pregnancy and through breastfeeding in the first year of life had a strong impact on the development of healthy immunity.
The scientists who conducted the review did not explain the mechanisms behind the link, but a quick tour through the normal pregnancy, labor, and delivery process demonstrates why there’s such a robust correlation between early exposure to microorganisms and a healthy immune system.
It all begins in the womb…which is entirely sterile during a normal pregnancy. There are no bacteria in there. But during labor and delivery, a baby travels through the birth canal which is loaded with beneficial bacteria in a healthy mom. That birth canal bacteria coats the baby on its way out. Some of it even winds up in baby’s mouth where it gets swallowed into and will ultimately get implanted (like seeds) in their still sterile GI tract. Ultimately, these bacterial “seeds” will grow into the child’s intestinal flora, which is so crucial to gastrointestinal health, nutrient absorption, hormonal balance, and immunity.
There are several things that can interfere with this initial healthful exposure to microorganisms:
- A heavy course of antibiotics during pregnancy can alter a mom’s microbiome (making it less diverse), which could adversely impact early bacterial colonization in the fetus.
- Babies born through a Cesarean procedure are not exposed naturally to a mother’s microbiome. Studies indicate that C-section babies are at an increased risk for celiac disease, asthma, and obesity. Findings like these have prompted doctors to expose C-section babies to vaginal fluids (containing the mom’s microbiota) in order to promote bacterial colonization in the baby’s GI tract.
Scientists are increasingly discovering the role that both microorganisms and omega-3 fatty acids play in supporting healthy immunity. A number of studies have found that omega-3 (found primarily in fish oil) counteracts the kind of inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases.
There’s also a growing body of evidence which strongly suggests that the more diverse a person’s gut bacteria is, then the more resilient and balanced their immune system will be. On the other hand, the less diverse your microbiome is, the more likely it is that you’ll suffer from autoimmune disorders.
The authors of this comprehensive meta-analysis investigating the link between maternal diet and childhood allergies have some clear evidence-based advice for future mom’s — probiotic and fish oil supplementation for pregnant and lactating women can help reduce allergies and autoimmune disorders in their children. They are also a great way to promote strong immunity and cognitive development both in adults and the next generation.
Take good care,