Fibre curbs asthma in pregnant mums and bubs

Jun 24 2015

Dr Vanessa Murphy and Assoc Professor Lisa Wood

Dr Vanessa Murphy, left, and Assoc Professor Lisa Wood collaborated on the fibre study.

Hunter respiratory researchers have helped demonstrate the benefits of a fibre-rich diet in reducing airway inflammation and curbing the onset of asthma in both pregnant mothers and their infants.

In an international paper titled “Evidence that asthma is a developmental origin disease influenced by maternal diet and bacterial metabolites”, published overnight by Nature Communications, a team from the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Disease provided vital human data that confirmed previous laboratory modelling.

“The initial studies showed that those fed a high-fibre diet had fewer asthma-like symptoms when exposed to an allergen. They also studied the offspring and found a similar result,” researcher Dr Vanessa Murphy said.

“We used data from pregnant women who’d completed a 24-hour food questionnaire, which highlighted a correlation between dietary fibre intake and acetate levels in their blood. And where the mothers had high acetate levels, their infants were less likely to have GP visits for cough and wheeze in the first 12 months.”

Acetate is a short-chain fatty acid that gut bacteria naturally produce through the conversion of soluble fibre. It’s known to have anti-inflammatory effects as it circulates through the blood stream to organs such as the lungs and heart.

Associate Professor Lisa Wood, who also collaborated on the study, said it highlighted the importance of expectant mothers having sufficient fibre intake.

“Fibre appears to cause epigenetic changes in the mother – in other words, the expression of certain genes are modified by the short-chain fatty acids, which is an amazing phenomenon,” Associate Professor Wood said.

“The Western diet is lacking in fibre and this paper proposes that it could be one reason why asthma is becoming more prevalent. The recommendation is to have 28-30 grams per day of fibre during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but Australian adults are currently only consuming around 20 grams. In the US it’s more like 15 grams per day.

“That means the protective effect of the fibre is being lost, and this might be contributing to the development of disease like asthma.”

With fruit and vegetables being considered the best source of soluble fibre, ongoing clinical trials at the Hunter Medical Research Institute are further exploring the potential benefits.

More information HERE.

* Dr Murphy and Associate Professor Wood research in conjunction with HMRI’s VIVA program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community. The study was supported by HMRI, Port Waratah Coal Services, Hunter Children’s Research Foundation, the National Health and Medical Research Council and Asthma Foundation NSW.