Consumption of Vitamin B during pregnancy does not increase the risk of allergy in the infants, says a new study from Japan that challenges previous findings. Maternal consumption of folate and vitamins B2, B6, and B12 during pregnancy was not associated with the risk of the infant developing asthma or eczema, according to findings from 763 infants published in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.
The link between folate and folic acid, the synthetic form of the vitamin, and respiratory health is not clear cut, with contradictory results reported in the literature. A study from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center found that higher levels of folate were associated with a 16 per cent reduction of asthma in (Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, June 2009, Vol. 123, pp. 1253-1259.e2). However, a Norwegian study reported that folic acid supplements during the first trimester were associated with a 6 per cent increase in wheezing, a 9 per cent increase in infections of the lower respiratory tract, and a 24 per cent increase in hospitalisations for such infections, (Archives of Diseases in Childhood, doi:10.1136/adc.2008.142448). In addition, researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia reported that folic acid supplements in late pregnancy may increase the risk of asthma by about 25 per cent in children aged between 3 and 5 years (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2010, doi:10.1093/aje/kwp315).
Illumination from the Land of the Rising Sun?
The new study, performed by researchers from Fukuoka University, the University of Tokyo, and Osaka City University, goes beyond folate and folic acid, and reports no link between Vitamin B intake and the risk of asthma or eczema in children. “To the best of our knowledge, there has been no birth cohort study on the relationship between maternal consumption of Vitamin B during pregnancy and the risk of allergic disorders in the offspring,” wrote the researchers. The findings were based on data from 763 pairs of Japanese mother and child. A diet history questionnaire was used to assess maternal intakes of the various B vitamins during pregnancy, and the infants were followed until the age of 16 to 24 months. Japan has no mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.
Results showed that, according to criteria from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, 22 and 19 percent of the children had symptoms of wheeze and eczema, respectively, but there was no association between these children and the dietary intakes of the various B vitamins by their mothers. “Our results suggest that maternal intake of folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and vitamin B2 during pregnancy was not measurably associated with the risk of wheeze or eczema in the offspring,” said the researchers. “Further investigation is warranted to draw conclusions as to the question of whether maternal Vitamin B intake during pregnancy is related to the risk of childhood allergic,” they concluded.
According to the European Federation of Allergy and Airway Diseases Patients Association (EFA), over 30m Europeans suffer from asthma, costing Europe €17.7bn every year. The cost due to lost productivity is estimated to be around €9.8bn. The condition is on the rise in the Western world and the most common long-term condition in the UK today. According to the American Lung Association, almost 20m Americans suffer from asthma. The condition is reported to be responsible for over 14m lost school days in children, while the annual economic cost of asthma is said to be over $16.1bn.
Source: Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. Volume 22, Issue 1-Part-I, February 2011, Pages: 69–74 DOI: 10.1111/j.1399-3038.2010.01081.x
“Maternal B vitamin intake during pregnancy and wheeze and eczema in Japanese infants aged 16–24 months: The Osaka Maternal and Child Health Study”. Authors: Y. Miyake, S. Sasaki, K. Tanaka, Y. Hirota
Dr. Gu and her colleagues studied a cohort of 2148 elderly subjects 65 years and older living in New York City. All subjects were healthy and free of dementia at study entry. Their dietary habits were obtained via questionnaire, and they were prospectively evaluated with the same standardized neurologic and neuropsychological measures approximately every 1.5 years for an average of 4 years.
The researchers used reduced rank regression to calculate dietary patterns according to their effect on 7 nutrients previously shown in the literature to be related to Alzheimer's disease: saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin B12, and folate.
During the follow-up, 253 individuals developed Alzheimer's disease. The study found that one dietary pattern — characterized by higher intakes of salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, and dark and green leafy vegetables and a lower intake of high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat, and butter — was significantly associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Compared with subjects in the lowest tertile of adherence to this pattern, the Alzheimer's disease hazard ratio (95% confidence interval) for subjects in the highest tertile was 0.62 (0.43 – 0.89) after multivariable adjustment (P for trend = .01).
The study also found that subjects who were older, less educated, and current smokers tended to be less adherent to the protective diet. Hispanic individuals adhered less than white and black individuals (P = .02), and women tended to adhere more than men (P = .05).
“The dietary pattern that was most protective against Alzheimer's reflected a diet rich in ω-3 and ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, and folate but poor in saturated fatty acids and vitamin B12,” commented Dr. Gu. “The combination of nutrients in this dietary pattern reflects multiple pathways in the development of Alzheimer's disease.
“For example, vitamin B12 and folate are homocysteine-related vitamins that may have an impact on the disease through their ability to lower circulating homocysteine levels,” she said. “Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant, and the fatty acids may be linked to dementia and cognitive function through atherosclerosis, thrombosis, or inflammation. Fatty acids may also affect brain development and membrane functioning.”
She added that the study has several limitations. “We used a single measurement of the diet, and this might not have captured the long-term dietary habits of the subjects. We also excluded subjects from the final analysis because they were lost to follow-up, and this might have introduced selection bias. We also can't completely rule out the possibility that the reduced risk associated with this protective diet was due to residual confounding.”
Further studies are planned, Dr. Gu said. “We cannot say based on this study alone that this type of dietary pattern prevents Alzheimer's disease, but many studies have consistently shown that fruits and vegetables and unsaturated fatty acids are associated with a lower risk. We want to repeat these findings in different populations and see if they can be confirmed in other studies.”
Commenting on this study for Medscape Neurology, David Knopman, MD, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic and a member of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota, said that, despite the study authors' best efforts, it is still not clear whether diet alone makes a difference.
“Dietary habits, which often are lifelong, are certainly part of the array of health behaviors that contribute to better cognitive health in late life. However, diet and other health behaviors are intertwined. Because a healthy diet contributes to better cardiac health, lower weight, lower blood pressure and a lower risk for diabetes, there are many reasons to view the dietary habits described by Dr. Gu and colleagues as beneficial.”
The study was supported by federal National Institute on Aging grants. Dr. Gu and Dr. Knopman have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
Arch Neurol. Published online April 12, 2010.
In most women folate, a type of B vitamin, reduces the risk of breast cancer. However, in women with a certain genetic make-up it has shown to be the opposite: folate raises the risk of breast cancer.
“Therefore I think it is too soon to introduce a general fortification of foodstuffs with folic acid”, says nutrition researcher Ulrika Ericson of Lund University.
Neither does she think it is a good idea to take multivitamin tablets and other dietary supplements containing folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) without special reason.
“It is better to eat a diet containing a lot of fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholemeal products. Then you get sufficient quantities of the natural form of folate, other vitamins and dietary fibre.”
In her doctoral thesis, Ulrika Ericson has taken as her starting point the major study from the 1990s, Malmö Diet and Cancer, which gathered information and blood samples from over 17 000 women. At the end of 2004, just over 500 of these women had developed breast cancer. Folate levels, genetic make-up and food habits in the breast cancer patients have then been compared with the corresponding data from the healthy women.
Those women whose intake of folate corresponded to the level recommended in Sweden had only half as great a risk of getting breast cancer as those who had the lowest intake of folate. This was the overall finding, which shows that folate generally protects against breast cancer. However, the breast cancer risk increased in line with folate levels for a specific sub-group among the women – those who had inherited a certain variant of an enzyme that affects how folate is used in the body.
The ten per cent of the women who had inherited this variant from both of their parents had the highest risk of breast cancer, particularly if they also took vitamin tablets containing folic acid.
“No-one knows which genetic variant of this enzyme they have. This is why I think people should only take dietary supplements if there is a particular reason to do so, not just because 'it's probably a good idea'”, says Ulrika Ericson.
She considers that there are two groups who could have a particular reason to take a folic acid supplement. These are people with a certain type of anaemia and low folate levels and women who are trying to become pregnant (folate reduces the risk of neural tube defects in babies).
To be on the safe side, others should avoid vitamin tablets containing folic acid while it is still unclear what the link is between folate and different types of cancer. Mandatory folic acid fortification of foodstuffs, which has been discussed in many countries including Sweden, is not appropriate in the current situation, according to Ulrika Ericson.
Patients who use vitamin supplements also showed lower levels of plasma homocysteine than in patients who did not (P = 0.001) or healthy controls (P = 0.003). Vitamin B6 and folate were both associated with homocysteine levels, whereas vitamin B12 was not. Twenty-four (48%) of 50 controls and 23 (50%) of 46 of the celiac disease patients carried the MTHFR thermolabile variant T-allele (P = 0.89).
The research team concludes that Homocysteine levels are dependent on Marsh classification and the regular use of B-vitamin supplements reduces of homocysteine levels in patients with celiac disease.The study confirms earlier studies suggesting that both the presence and severity of celiac disease determined homocysteine levels.
The regular use of supplemental B vitamins resulted in higher levels of serum vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12 and lower levels of plasma homocysteine in patients with celiac disease. Moreover, supplemental B vitamins seem to offer protection against the effects of villous atrophy on homocysteine levels, independent of the genetic susceptibility status as determined by carriage of the C677T polymorphism of 5,10 methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase.
World J Gastroenterol. 2009;15:955–960
Since the 1960s, researchers have been studying how the water-soluble vitamin supports the healthy functioning of cells. They discovered that it's essential for cell division and replication, making it especially important for expectant mothers.
It's also important to proper replication of DNA and RNA — a lack of folate has been linked to genetic mutations that can lead to cancer.
Folate is commonly found in leafy green vegetables like spinach and turnip greens. Since 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has mandated that many foods, such as rice, flour and cornmeal, be enriched with a synthetic folate known as folic acid.
While folate deficiency is no longer a problem in the U.S., it remains widespread in developing nations and much of Europe, where enriching grain products is not widely practiced.
This new research, funded by the National Science Foundation and originally sparked by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, links folate to the production or repair of compounds called iron-sulfur clusters through a recently discovered intermediary protein called COG0354.
These clusters are part of the mechanism cells use to produce energy and carry out other vital reactions. But they are also sensitive to a byproduct of the energy-producing process: highly reactive oxygen-based molecules, some of which are called free radicals.
The oxidative stress caused when these molecules pollute a cell has been linked to cell death and aging, as well as to conditions such as atherosclerosis, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, Alzheimer's, fragile X syndrome and many more.
Examining the folate-iron-sulfur cluster link required the team to pull experience from not only UF's microbiology and cell science and food science and human nutrition departments, but also the McKnight Brain Institute and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
Expertise from the latter two institutions was needed because the researchers used nuclear magnetic resonance analysis to observe folate interacting with COG0354 protein — molecular-scale activity that could otherwise only have been shown indirectly, said Arthur Edison, the NHMFL's director of chemistry and biology and an associate professor with UF's biochemistry and molecular biology department.
The researchers have found that COG0354 is present in creatures from each of the six kingdoms of life, from mice and plants to one-cell organisms that may predate bacteria.
The findings will open new avenues of study into the overall mechanism of oxidative stress repair, and may someday lead to new medicines. For now, the researchers emphasize that this is another example of the vitamin's importance in one's diet.