Pregnant women could prevent their children developing asthma and other allergies by eating food which is rich in vitamin E, new research has suggested.
Researchers at Aberdeen University discovered that children whose mothers had a higher intake of the vitamin in their diet were less sensitive to common allergens like pollen and dust mites.
Now the scientists say they will continue to follow the children they have studied to see if the results prove an indication of whether they develop asthma later in life.
This is the first study world-wide to have shown an effect of maternal diet during pregnancy on evidence of allergy in the newborn child
Dr John Harvey, British Thoracic Society
About 20% of children in the UK suffer from asthma, according to recent figures from the British Thoracic Society.
The scientists at Aberdeen University believe they have established that maternal diet may have a bigger influence on the development of such allergies than was previously thought.
They tested blood from umbilical cords of 223 children to measure their response to dust mites and grass pollen.
The findings revealed that children whose mothers had a high intake of foods which are rich in vitamin E - such as vegetable oils, leafy green vegetables and nuts - during pregnancy showed less sensitivity to allergens.
However, smoking and genetic history also have an important influence on the health of newborn children and the scientists say they will continue to monitor their progress in the future.
Researchers will keep track of the children
Lead researcher Dr Graham Devereux is a respiratory physician at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
He said: "Our findings suggest that foods containing vitamin E, probably with other dietary factors, may have a direct impact on the health of a newborn child.
"We are now investigating what these other factors are, and are following the children to see if these early blood results are an indication of later asthma."
Dr John Harvey, chairman of the British Thoracic Society's communications committee, said: "This is the first study world-wide to have shown an effect of maternal diet during pregnancy on evidence of allergy in the newborn child.
"As the authors state, this is early evidence of an effect that may later turn out to be asthma, and we await with interest the longer term follow-up of these babies."