Smoking habits of grandmothers increase asthma risk in grandchildren, study reveals

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Sep 30, 2015 06:00 AM EDT

circa 1960: An old German woman smokes a cigarette. (Photo : Keystone/Getty Images)

A recent research presented by the European Lung Foundation at the European Respiratory Society's International Congress reveals that grandmothers who smoked while pregnant may have grandchildren with an increased risk of asthma even when parents of those children didn't smoke. According to the report by Time, smoking can affect genetics and can be passed on to successors.

For the study, researchers looked at the data of nearly 45,000 grandmothers from the Swedish Registry between 1982 to 1986. The researchers looked at their smoking habits during their pregnancies and compared it to the use of asthma medication in more than 66,000 grandchildren. They found that grandmothers that smoked while pregnant are 10 to 22 percent more likely to have grandchildren with asthma.

"We found that smoking in previous generations can influence the risk of asthma in subsequent generations," said lead author Dr. Caroline Lodge, from the University of Melbourne, Australia, via Eureka Alert. "This may also be important in the transmission of other exposures and diseases."

"For us to understand more about the asthma epidemic, we require a greater understanding of how harmful exposures over your lifetime may influence the disease risks of generations to come. Additionally, researchers in this area need to be aware, when interpreting the asthma risk from current exposures and genetic predisposition, that individuals may carry an inherited, non-genetic, risk from exposures in previous generation," Dr. Lodge explained. "This knowledge will help to clarify the findings concerning current risk factors in asthma research."

In the release, it was stated that the rates of asthma have increased in the last five decades and it was originally believed that "environmental exposures" are the reason for this phenomenon.

According to the report by Medical Daily, the next step of the research is to find out the effect of smoking on the smokers' sons and their grandchildren as this one is focused on grandmothers and their daughters' children.

"The next stage for the research team is to investigate the potential inheritance of asthma risk through the male line, by assessing the risk of asthma in grandchildren whose grandmothers smoked whilst pregnant with their fathers. The findings also encourage research into inherited disease risks for other environmental exposures," said Professor Bertil Forsberg, author of the study from Umea University, Sweden.

There are 1 in 12 people in the US who have asthma and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the numbers continue to rise every year. Asthma is a lifelong condition that is characterized by coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness.

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