Researchers say that children of women who eat a Mediterranean style diet during pregnancy are far less likely to develop asthma or allergies later in life.
The Greek researchers who conducted a study involving 468 pregnant women and their offspring published their results this week in the journal Thorax. They conclude that women who eat a diet characteristic of that found in Mediterranean countries which includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, and fish, are greatly reducing the chances of their children developing atopic diseases.
Specifically, eating vegetables more than eight times a week, fish more than three times a week and legumes more than once a week seemed to boost the protection considerably, the researchers from the University of Crete said.
During the study the women completed questionnaires about their diet during pregnancy. The health of their children was then tracked for 6-1/2-years after birth using further questionnaires to determine what impact, if any, the womens diet had had on the development of asthma and allergies in the children.
The women were asked to provided details on respiratory and allergic symptoms in their children. The children also underwent periodic medical exams to look for signs of persistent wheezing and allergies.
It was found that children whose mothers followed a high-quality Mediterranean-style diet were up to 80 per cent less likely to have signs of asthma, such as persistent wheezing. Allergies were also 45 per cent less likely in these children.
On the other hand, children whose mothers who ate a diet high in red meat seemed to be at higher risk of developing these health problems. The researchers report that the diet of the children themselves early in life didn't seem to have a significant impact.
The study did not investigate the reasons why the Mediterranean-style diet has such a big impact on the development of these conditions but it is likely to be the result of the combination of healthy, natural foods of high nutritional value. This diet is based on foods which are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats such as the omega-3 variety found in fish which are known to be powerfully anti-inflammatory.
Lead researcher Leda Chatzi and colleagues said: "Further studies are needed to better understand the mechanisms of this protective effect and the most relevant window of exposure."
This study adds to the already substantial body of research demonstrating the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Previous research has shown its effectiveness at reducing the risk of serious conditions such as heart disease.