Mom’s Diet Before Pregnancy Affects Baby’s Genes
We’ve known for some time that what mom eats while a baby grows inside of her has a substantial impact on the baby’s health, in utero, and after birth. With ongoing concern regarding the current obesity crisis in the U.S., it’s certainly not a good thing for mom to enter her pregnancy overweight, or for a woman to gain too much weight during her pregnancy, for her own health and for the health of the growing embryo.
Being overweight during a pregnancy can increase risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and certainly pose a risk for mother and baby during delivery. Research also seems to indicate that what you eat during pregnancy can impact a baby’s “future taste buds.” Eating a lot of processed foods with sugar, salt and fat as the main ingredients may impact your infant's palate and future food preferences as well. There’s also a false sense of security when you take prenatal vitamins. Yes, they help you to maintain important vitamin and mineral levels, which are crucial to a baby’s growing needs, but they are not meant to take the place of sensible, nutritious food choices.
A new study now suggests that mom’s eating habits before pregnancy may also be incredibly important when it comes to baby’s health. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggest that nutritional deficiencies right at the time of conception could alter baby’s genes. Other studies, yet to be published, suggest that though you may not alter the actual DNA coding, diet may impact whether certain genes are turned on or remain off during the earliest stages of the embryo’s development. When levels of certain B vitamins were low, six genes that the researchers in these as-yet-unpublished studies had isolated, experienced less methylation. Methylation is a process that is involved in facilitating the “on-off’ switch of DNA.
Being overweight or obese at the time of conception has been considered a gamechanger in methylation patterns. A higher BMI translates to less methylation. What the researchers found especially interesting in these unpublished studies was that (a) the moms were not overweight (b) vitamins levels were not alarmingly low, but rather borderline low. Still, just having “somewhat lower levels of the B vitamins,” but still within normal limits, meant less methylation.
These findings support other studies on diet and BMI and DNA methylation in mice subjects. Researchers feel that these effects could extend to the entire genome. But for the more basic discussion, the takeaway message should be: you are what you eat; your baby is what you eat; your baby is what you ate before the early stages of his or her development in utero. Pick your foods with nutrition, portion control and mostly with sensibility in mind, before and during pregnancy, because a balanced diet before and during pregnancy is crucial to your health and that of your precious cargo!
Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience. Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts. Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch? Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at www.healthgal.com.