Asthma and allergies are the two diseases classified as the plague of the 21st century. The incidence of these two diseases has skyrocketed since the end of the Second World War – the only other disease to come close being diabetes 2. So what causes Asthma? There has been much speculation with very little in the way of science to back up the speculation. There are several factors that commonsense would suggest plays a big role.
Air pollutants are one obvious cause. Asthma is a disease of the airways so anything that is going to effect the airways has to be considered as a cause. Tobacco smoke, breathed in second hand from parents who smoke is thought to be one of the leading causes. Other pollutants such as factory discharges into the atmosphere, pollutants from cars, trucks and buses, and the widespread use of crop dusters are also thought to be to blame.
Genetics is another area that has seen considerable scientific research. However, what science cannot explain is why genetics didn’t induce asthma in such high numbers to pre World War 2 children. Researchers are now accepting that genetics may predispose one to asthma but that other causes actually trigger the disease – causes that were not around prior to the 1940’s.
One of the latest scientific research announcements concerns the use of folate or folic acid supplements during pregnancy. Low levels of folate has been identified as one of the causes of neural tube defects (like spina bifida) in new borns. This has prompted health experts to recommend that all mothers to be should take folate supplements prior to getting pregnant and in the first few months after becoming pregnant.
Health experts have now revised this recommendation following the latest research. It seems that the babies of women who do take folate beyond the first six weeks of pregnancy have a significantly higher chance of suffering from asthma. Folate is only beneficial in preventing neural tube defects in the first six weeks following conception. It is interesting to note that folate taken in the form of food (foods high in folate) to not produce the same results. It is only in supplements that problems occur.
This latest research is only one of many. Each is trying to identify why we have an increase in the number of asthma sufferers and what triggers there are that cause one child to suffer from asthma whilst another doesn’t. At present, we can only really speculate. We can try to minimize the air pollutants that our new borns breath, particularly tobacco smoke and aerosols and by not taking folate supplements after the first six weeks of conception.
Apart from that – asthma will remain in the ’causes unknown’ category for many years to come.