Yet More New (and Scary) Research on Maternal Immune Activation

An old doctor friend of mine used to always say, “Inflammation is inflammation.”  Truer words were never spoken.  Whether inflammation manifests as swelling because you just broke your leg or an autoimmune disease, ultimately, it’s all the same.  The only difference is, how long the inflammation is present. While, acute inflammation is necessary for survival, the chronic, low-grade inflammation rampant in the industrialized world is incredibly destructive of both physical and mental health.

Yesterday morning, I read two articles that really jumped out at me although neither is, on the surface, directly related to the human biome.  Underneath it all though, of course, anything that affects inflammation levels ultimately WILL affect our native residents – and vice versa.

First:  researchers at Stamford University showed that the stress of losing a loved one during pregnancy impacts the long-term mental health of the child.  “We find that prenatal exposure to the death of a maternal relative increases take-up of ADHD medications during childhood and anti-anxiety and depression medications in adulthood,” they write.[i]

Stress, of course, is hugely inflammatory (and does have a negative effect on our bacterial microbiomes).  Therefore, it was not a surprise to read yet another article, directly after finishing this one confirming that inflammation in pregnant women increases the risk of mental illness and brain development problems in children.

Publishes in Nature Neuroscience, this research[ii] looked at the pro-inflammatory cytokine, IL-6, in mothers during each trimester of her pregnancy.  4 weeks after birth, babies were given MRIs to assess brain connectivity patterns and then, at 2 years old, they were tested for working memory performance (which is highly important in academic achievement and frequently poor in those with mental health issues).

“The data from mother and child show that differences in the levels of inflammatory markers are directly associated with differences in newborn brain communication, and later to working memory scores at age 2. Higher levels of the marker during pregnancy tended to result in less working memory capacity in the child.”

The researchers believe that the next step is to figure out what environmental triggers lead to this “heightened inflammation.”

Undoubtedly, the depleted biomes of those of us living in the industrialized world will turn out to be a major factor.




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