When you were born affects allergy risk

Researchers have now found specific DNA markers linking the season of birth to risk of allergy later in life, could other traits be connected as well?

While it’s true that I may secretly read zodiac profiles from time to time, my inner science nerd blushes all kind of crimson when it finds me doing so. How could the day you were born possibly have any impact on who you are, silly? Pure poppycock.

But today I read this from researchers at the University of Southampton:

The season a person is born in influences a wide range of things: from risk of allergic disease, to height and lifespan. Yet little is known about how a one-time exposure like the season of birth has such lasting effects.

So there’s that. And while they may not be talking about the kind of day I can expect as a Capricorn, the Southampton team has come one step closer to at least understanding how one’s season of birth is linked to risk of allergy in later life.

For the study published in the journal Allergy, the researchers undertook epigenetic scanning on DNA samples from a group of 18-year olds native to the Isle of Wight. They found that particular epigenetic marks were associated with what season one was born in and were still present after 18 years. The researchers were able to link these birth season epigenetic marks to allergic disease, for example they found that those born in autumn had an increased risk of eczema compared to those born in spring. And it’s not a fluke, the results were validated in a cohort of Dutch children.

John Holloway, Professor of Allergy and Respiratory Genetics at the University and an author on the study notes:

These are really interesting results. We know that season of birth has an effect on people throughout their lives. For example generally, people born in autumn and winter are at increased risk for allergic diseases such as asthma. However, until now, we did not know how the effects can be so long lasting.

Epigenetic marks are attached onto DNA, and can influence gene expression (the process by which specific genes are activated to produce a required protein) for years, maybe even into the next generation. Our study has linked specific epigenetic marks with season of birth and risk of allergy. However, while these results have clinical implications in mediating against allergy risk, we are not advising altering pregnancy timing.

Dr. Gabrielle Lockett, of the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, says, "It might sound like a horoscope by the seasons, but now we have scientific evidence for how that horoscope could work. Because season of birth influences so many things, the epigenetic marks discovered in this study could also potentially be the mechanism for other seasonally influenced diseases and traits too, not just allergy."

It is not yet clear what exactly the seasons have to do with allergy risk – could it be temperature, strength of sunlight or diet? – but one thing seems possible, there may be more to our star signs than soothsayers and poppycock.

Tags: Health


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