Sugar Intake During Pregnancy Linked To Allergies, Study Finds

Sugar Intake During Pregnancy Linked To Allergies, Study Finds

I’m not sure about you, but I know my pregnancy cravings sometimes included some seriously sweet treats.

I’d do my best to avoid hunger by eating regular small, frequent meals to help avoid getting cravings, but sometimes they came.

At times, I could eat a bit of fruit while also eating protein to curb that sweet tooth and get full.

But other times, that donut craving won. And the soft drink. And the ice cream. And the latte.

Sugar Intake During Pregnancy Linked To Allergies, Study Finds

In a time when sweet treats are easy to come by and very hard to avoid, studies show many pregnant women are consuming excessive amounts of sugar.

In fact, in many places, women are routinely screened for gestational diabetes as the frequency has become a health crisis.

Hormone changes during pregnancy and genetic predisposition certainly play a role, but there’s no doubt our modern lifestyles have a huge impact.

But is our modern diet, especially during pregnancy, harmful? Is our excessive sugar intake a risk for our babies?

Sugar Intake May Increase The Risk Of Allergies And Asthma

A new study published in the European Respiratory Journal, found maternal sugar intake may increase the risk of atopy and asthma in children.

Atopy is a term used to describe a family’s tendency to develop allergic conditions like eczema, asthma and hayfever.

The number of children suffering from allergies, asthma and eczema is high in western countries where sugar intake is also high.

While this study can’t say sugar is a cause, the study did find a strong correlation between high sugar intake during pregnancy and a tendency to develop allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and atopic dermatitis in children.

How Could Sugar Intake Impact Allergies And Asthma?

Between 1970 and 2000 the US saw a 25% increase in the per capita consumption of all refined sugars. During this timeframe, there’s also been an increase in the number of children with asthma and other allergic conditions.

Certainly, we can’t simply assume the two are related. However, our switch to highly processed and high sugar foods occurring when we also saw an increase in health risks indicates more research is needed to find out what, if any, role our western diet has in our health.

One theory about atopy and asthma is our current western diet includes less antioxidants than in the past.

Few studies have been done on how our intake of potentially harmful ingredients (e.g. sugar) could play a role. Sugar can cause inflammation – asthma and allergies are inflammatory conditions.

This is what led researchers to look at 8,956 mother-child pairs and assess the maternal diet during pregnancy and the risk of asthma, hay fever, eczema and other allergic diseases.

What Link Did Researchers Find Between Maternal Sugar Intake And Allergic Conditions?

Of the nearly 9,000 participants researchers found that at one year of age:

  • 12.2% had current doctor diagnosed asthma
  • 10.7% had current wheezing and whistling
  • 8.8% had hay fever
  • 16.2% had eczema
  • 21.5% had atopy
  • And 61.8% did not have any of these allergic conditions.

Based on this study, about four in 10 one year olds had an allergic condition. This prevalence is one of the reasons researchers are looking for links, causes and ways to lower risks.

When researchers adjusted for different variables, they found:

  • A weak positive association between maternal free sugar intake during pregnancy and diagnosed asthma
  • A weak positive association between maternal free sugar intake during pregnancy and childhood wheezing
  • A positive association between maternal free sugar intake and atopic asthma
  • No association between eczema, hay fever, total IgE or other allergic conditions and maternal intake of free sugar.

In the simplest terms, researchers found women who consumed a lot of free sugar were more likely to have a baby with atopy or atopic asthma. The association was weak, so it isn’t conclusive, but it is worth further research.

“We cannot say on the basis of these observations that 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,” says Seif Shaheen, at Queen Mary, University of London, who led the study.

What Is Free Sugar?

According to the World Health Organization the term ‘free sugars’ refers to all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus the sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

Monosaccharides have one sugar molecule and include glucose, galactose and fructose. Disaccharides have two molecules. The most widely consumed disaccharide is sucrose or table sugar.

Sugar found in whole fruits and whole vegetables are not included in the term free sugar.

It’s very easy to have quite a bit of free sugar in your diet if you follow a typical western diet. Many people start the day with sugary breakfast cereals, sweetened coffee, or even donuts.

Lunch and dinner may be healthier but if we add in sweetened beverages, fruit juices, pastries and desserts, it’s really no wonder why so many of us consume far more free sugar than we should.

During pregnancy, if we account for cravings, it can be quite easy to fall into the group which consumes excess sugar.

What Can I Do To Lower My Child’s Risk Of Allergies?

This study wasn’t conclusive enough to say excess sugar is a direct cause of allergies. However, it is enough to say women in this study who consumed higher levels of free sugar were more likely to have a one year old child with atopy or asthma.

Lowering your sugar intake during pregnancy isn’t a guarantee your child will be allergy free. However, it does seem it has the potential to lower their risk.

Given the benefits of a diet with less free sugar, it seems it’s a risk free way to potentially improve your child’s future health.

There are actually many things you can do for your health and your baby’s health in terms of your diet during pregnancy, such as:

  • Increasing your probiotic intake to reduce the risk of your baby developing eczema by 29%.
  • Following good eating habits to reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes, as well as reducing your child’s risk of future insulin resistance.
  • Reducing your risk of gestational diabetes with exercise and a balanced diet. If you develop gestational diabetes, you can reduce associated risks by managing it with proper exercise, diet, and medications if necessary.

In general, a healthy and well balanced pregnancy diet includes lots of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of processed ‘white’ bread or pasta products, and healthy proteins. It also includes healthy fats like those found in oily fish, nuts, olive oil, and other items naturally containing omega 3s.

You can read Pregnancy Nutrition – The Most Important Things You Need To to learn more about a well-balanced diet during pregnancy.

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Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

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