Stress during childhood increases the risk of allergies

June 18, 2008

Moving house or the separation of parents can significantly increase the risk of children developing allergies later on. These are the results from a long-term study correlating life-style, immune system development and allergies, led by the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig (UFZ), the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the "Institut für Umweltmedizinische Forschung" (IUF) in Duesseldorf.

The researchers had examined blood samples taken from 234 six-year old children and discovered increased blood concentrations of the stress-related peptide VIP (vasoactive intestinal polypeptide) in connection with moving house or the separation of parents. The neuropeptide VIP could take on a mediator role between stress events in life and the regulation of immune responses, researchers write in the scientific journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. The fact that stress events can have an influence on the development of allergies has been known for a while. The mechanisms behind this however remained unexplained for a long time. In the study that has now been published, stress events were investigated for the first time during early childhood within a large epidemiological study using immune and stress markers.


Stress events during childhood are increasingly suspected of playing a role in the later development of asthma, allergic skin disorders, or allergic sensitisations. Dramatic life events like the death of a family member, serious illnesses of a family member or the separation of parents, but also harmless events like for example moving house are suspected of increasing the risk of allergies for the children affected. The immune system obviously plays a mediator role between stress on the one hand and allergies on the other. Since these mechanisms had hardly been understood before, researchers attempted to identify stress-related factors showing an influence on the immune system, in the context of an epidemiological study (LISA). At the same time as the blood tests, researchers together with colleagues from the Institute for Social Medicine at the University of Lübeck also analysed the most diverse social factors in the children's environment, in order to find out which factors are causing stress-related regulation deficiencies of the immune system. With children, whose parents had separated over the last year, researchers found increased blood concentrations of the neuropeptide VIP (vasoactive intestinal polypeptide) as well as an increased concentration of immune markers, which are related to the occurrence of allergic reactions, like for example the cytokine IL-4. By comparison, serious diseases or the death of close relatives led to no remarkable changes.

Likewise, the unemployment of parents was not associated with increased concentrations of the stress-related peptides in the children's blood. As tragic as these events are, they are obviously however of less significance for the stress reactions of children than for example a separation or the divorce of parents, UFZ researchers have concluded. As was already shown in an earlier publication from the same study, increased concentrations of the stress peptide VIP can also be proven in the blood of children after moving house (similar to the separation of parents). Preceding investigations in LISA showed that there is a relationship between an increased concentration of the neuropeptide VIP and allergic sensitisations among six-year old children. Even if the results were to be interpreted carefully, because of the comparatively small number of children affected, they nevertheless provide valuable indications as to what exactly happens to the body through stress.

The investigations are based on data from 6-year old children from the LISA study. LISA stands for "Lifestyle - Immune System - Allergy" and investigates the influences of life-styles on the immune system development in early childhood and the emergence of allergies.

In addition to the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig (UFZ), the Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health, and the "Institut für Umweltmedizinische Forschung" (IUF) in Duesseldorf, other universities and clinics are also participating partners, including the Municipal Hospital "St. Georg" in Leipzig. For the LISA study over 3000 newborn children in the cities of Munich, Leipzig, Wesel and Bad Honnef were recruited between the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1999. Parents were repeatedly asked about various lifestyle-relöated factors and disease outcomes. Furthermore, blood tests were carried out at different times. At the age of six a total of 565 children were examined in Leipzig, and for 234 participants, blood analyses regarding stress and immune parameters were carried out. Over the course of the 6-year study nearly one third of the families living in Leipzig were affected by unemployment. For approximately half of all families, severe illnesses were experienced by close family members. By comparison, cases of death among family members or the separation of parents only affected every sixth or tenth child.

Source: Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres

Explore further: Study raises possibility of naturally acquired immunity against Zika virus

Related Stories

Study raises possibility of naturally acquired immunity against Zika virus

November 16, 2017
Birth defects in babies born infected with Zika virus remain a major health concern. Now, scientists suggest the possibility that some women in high-risk Zika regions may already be protected and not know it.

Chronic stress and habitat loss are flooring koalas

October 26, 2017
Koalas are under a lot of stress. Heatwaves, land clearing and even noise pollution are all taking a toll.

Autoimmunity may underlie newly discovered painful nerve-damage disorder

November 8, 2017
An analysis of the medical records of patients treated at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for an often-mysterious condition involving damage to small nerve fibers supports the hypothesis that some cases are caused by ...

Medical marijuana legal in Poland but still rare

October 31, 2017
The little boy shakes his hands violently to and fro, but the involuntary motion eases within minutes after his mother puts the syrupy, honey-brown oil into his mouth: medicinal marijuana.

Home visits help new parents overcome tough histories, raise healthy children

August 24, 2017
Seated at a kitchen table in a cramped apartment, Rosendo Gil asked the young parents sitting across from him what they should do if their daughter caught a cold.

Virtual reality alleviates pain, anxiety for pediatric patients

September 8, 2017
As patients at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford undergo routine medical procedures, they are being whisked away to swim under the sea, zap flying cheeseburgers in outer space, catch basketballs using their heads ...

Recommended for you

Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

November 17, 2017
A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower ...

New shoe makes running 4 percent easier, 2-hour marathon possible, study shows

November 17, 2017
Eleven days after Boulder-born Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon in new state-of-the-art racing flats known as "4%s," University of Colorado Boulder researchers have published the study that inspired the shoes' ...

Study: For older women, every movement matters

November 16, 2017
Folding your laundry or doing the dishes might not be the most enjoyable parts of your day. But simple activities like these may help prolong your life, according to the findings of a new study in older women led by the University ...

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects, study shows

November 16, 2017
Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could cause birth defects of the oral cavity and face, according to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Children's exposure to secondhand smoke may be vastly underestimated by parents

November 15, 2017
Four out of 10 children in the US are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the American Heart Association. A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that parents who smoke mistakenly rely on their own physical senses ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.