Diet and Nerves: The Impact of Maternal Feeding on Newborn Intestinal Permeability

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A possible link between what a mother eats during pregnancy and the risk of her child developing allergies has been identified in new research published in Septembers; The Journal of Physiology.[1]

This paper identified that if the maternal diet is rich in PUFA’s or poly unsaturated fats such as those found in flaxseed, walnuts and fish their offspring’s digestive tract develops differently than in those progeny lacking these PUFAs.

In effect the PUFA known as ‘n’ or omega-3PUFAs enriched diet trains the neonate’s immune cells to respond in a different manner to commensals and non-commensals and other foreign agents resulting in a reduction in allergy development.

In simple terms in utero exposure to PUFAs from the mums diet reduces the likelihood of the child developing an allergy.

Until now, several clinical trials have shown that fish and walnut oil supplementation in pregnant women reduces the risk of allergy in their children, but the mechanism was unknown.

Reverse benefits of increased permeability suggested

The team found that supplementing a mother’s diet with n-3PUFA caused the new-born’s gut to become more permeable. A more permeable gut enables bacteria and new substances to pass through the lining of the gut into the bloodstream more easily. These new substances then trigger the baby’s immune response and the production of antibodies.

“The end result is that the baby’s immune system may develop and mature faster – leading to better immune function and less likelihood of suffering allergies”

This research adds to previous studies which have shown that an intake of n-3 PUFAs during pregnancy increases gestational length and maturation of the central nervous system of a baby and that their performance on mental tasks also seemed to be improved in childhood.


In terms of next steps, the team’s findings were based on piglets so research will continue to see if they translate to humans. The porcine intestine is an excellent model of the human gut however, so they are hopeful that the findings can be extrapolated. The team also plans to investigate whether the apparent gut function-boosting effects of n-3PUFA that they have identified in new-borns extends into later life.

In case you wish to read more about the role of fish oils in human health consider this article:

  • Leslie G Cleland, Michael J James and Susanna M Proudman Fish oil: what the prescriber needs to know Review


[1] De Quelen F, Chevalier J, Rolli-Derkinderen M, Mourot J, Neunlist M, Boudry G. n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the maternal diet modify the postnatal development of nervous regulation of intestinal permeability in piglets. J Physiol. 2011 Sep 1;589(Pt 17):4341-52. Epub 2011 Jul 11. View Abstract

Previous Post
Fever: It’ll Help You Fight off Infection
Next Post
XMRV Researcher Jailed