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Grandmas Who Smoke May Be Cause of Asthma in Grandchildren

Update Date: Mar 04, 2013 01:04 PM EST

Here's yet another reason why you might want to stub out that cigarette for good. A recent study found that grandmothers who smoked cigarettes may be linked with grandchildren who have asthma, even if the children's mothers never smoked. The study is yet another finding that indicates that environmental factors could have important results for generations that have yet to be born.

An editorial published in the journal Obstretrics and Gynecology was written highlighting various studies on just this matter. One study found that rats who were given nicotine gave birth to asthmatic pups who, in turn, gave birth to asthmatic pups. This third generation had asthma, even despite the fact that there was no nicotine in the second generation.

Another study, called the Children's Health Study and conducted in southern California, found that women who smoked cigarettes had a higher likelihood of producing grandchildren with asthma, regardless of whether the children's mother smoked or not.

Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by breathlessness, chest tightening and wheezing.

The researchers believe that nicotine in cigarettes could modify the genetics of both sex cells and lung cells. That means that children born in families where their grandmother smoked could be born with abnormal lungs, leading to asthma.

The researchers say that environmental factors could be responsible for affecting children, not just if they are exposed to chemicals in-utero, but also in the cases of future generations. That may help to explain why 98 percent of inherited diseases cannot be explained through current views of genetic trait transmission.

If the researchers' theory is correct, the problem could be incredibly damaging. Today, 250 million women worldwide smoke cigarettes on a daily basis. In fact, 12 percent of women continue to smoke while they are pregnant in the United States alone, meaning that 400,000 infants are born every year, having been exposed to cigarette smoke in the womb.

At the same time, asthma rates are on the rise in the United States and internationally. According to the Centers for Disease Control, asthma affects 1 in 12 Americans, amounting to 26 million people in total.

According to the World Health Organization, 235 million people suffer from the condition worldwide. It is the most common chronic disease in children.

"Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood, resulting in a significant impact on the lives of children and driving up medical costs for all," Dr. Virender Rehan, one of the authors of the editorial, said in a statement. "While many factors contribute to asthma, smoking during pregnancy is a well-established one and one that can be avoided. Eliminating smoking during pregnancy would significantly reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma for this generation and for future generations."

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