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Taking Iron Supplements During Pregnancy May Reduce Risk of Childhood Asthma


In the United States, more than 22 million people are known to have asthma, including nearly 6 million children. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways causing wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. Studies suggest that the risk of childhood asthma begins before birth.

Prenatal Maternal Nutrition Is Important to Child's Respiratory Health

Proper nutrition is not only important for the overall proper development of the fetus, but adequate iron stores in particular may also affect childhood respiratory health. About 9 percent of pregnant women have anemia, a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. In 95% of these cases, lack of dietary iron is the cause of the deficiency.

Iron requirements significantly increase during pregnancy. Iron is essential for making hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to body cells and tissues. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in a woman’s body increases until she has almost 50% more blood than usual. The recommended dietary intake during pregnancy is 27 milligrams per day.

Read: Childhood Asthma Risk Starts Before Birth

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Elizabeth Triche PhD, Paige Wickner MD, and Lisbet Lundsberg PhD studied 597 families who participated in the Asthma in Pregnancy (AIP) study. They found that 12 percent of mothers had anemia while pregnant. Among their children, 22 percent had recurrent wheeze in the first year of life and 17% had active asthma at age six.

Women in low-income areas are particularly susceptible to low iron stores. Background information for the study states that up to 27 of low-income minority pregnant women have anemia. Prenatal care is especially important for these women.

Read: Stress During Pregnancy Increases Baby's Asthma Risk

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia in pregnancy, but it is not the only cause. A deficiency of folic acid or vitamin B12 also affects the development of red blood cells. Signs of anemia include fatigue and weakness, dizziness, headache, low body temperature, shortness of breath and rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Dr. Lundsberg states that the study findings support the message that pregnant women should be compliant with a healthy diet and prenatal vitamins to support the health of their newborn. “Nutrition in pregnancy is an area of great interest. The results of this study highlight the need to further evaluate maternal nutritional status and the possible effects on the respiratory health of children.”

Journal Reference:
Association of maternal anemia with increased wheeze and asthma in children, Elizabeth W. Triche, Lisbet S. Lundsberg, Paige G. Wickner, Kathleen Belanger, Brian P. Leaderer, Michael B. Bracken
Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology February 2011 (Vol. 106, Issue 2, Pages 131-139.e1)