Allergies can be characterized by an imbalance in the way that our immune system reacts to things. We need balance in our immune system, but this balance is trained; it is not hard wired.
On one side, we have the cell-mediated immune cells, referred to as the Th1 cytokine profile. Too much of this arm of the immune system leads to autoimmune disorders where the body tries to attack itself. On the other side we have the Th2 cytokine profile, also referred to as humoral immune system. This is responsible for keeping things out of the body. Too much of this system leads to allergies and asthma.
These systems are present in your body early as early as the womb and remain with you throughout your life. The balance between the Th1 and Th2 systems is constantly in flux. Get an infection? Your Th1 system kicks in to fight off the invader, be it a virus, bacteria or fungus. Dust storm kicked up in Phoenix? Your Th2 system will kick in to deal with the dust coming in through the respiratory system.
This is how it is designed to work. At least in a perfect world that isn’t subject to the manipulations by mainstream medicine and our Westernized lifestyle. Antibiotics, sterile lifestyles, vaccinations and unhealthy diets all contribute.
But just how early do the dietary factors kick in?
According to this particular study, they may begin as early as in the womb.
Healthy fats play a strong role in the function and balance of the immune system. In a study that was originally designed to look at fish oil supplementation (DHA and EPA) on depressive symptoms in pregnant women, the researchers looked at the cytokine balance (Th1 / Th2) in the cord blood of these babies born to the mothers in this study. Here’s what they found:
- Omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy resulted in immune balance consistent with less allergies.
- Even more surprising, C-section delivery was associated with an immune balance consistent with more allergies.
Pretty interesting information, especially considering that we already know that C-section births lead to a higher risk of allergies in the child. Personally, I have always felt that this finding was due to the difference in bacterial exposure from not passing through the birth canal, but I’m always open to new ideas.
The bottom line is that the balance, or imbalance, of the immune system begins as early as the womb. Mom’s dietary and supplementation choices, as well as the method of birth, can begin to influence the development of the immune system in the as of yet unborn child.