If you are pregnant, your doctor should advise you on the dangers of drinking and smoking. He will probably talk to you about the importance of eating a healthy diet and taking prenatal vitamins. But he might not specifically tell you to avoid sugars and fats.
This could change, based on the results of a study that found a diet high in sugars and fats during pregnancy might increase the chance that your child will develop ADHD.
Researchers at Kings College, London looked at how foods eaten during pregnancy affect a child’s DNA. They found that the gene IGF2, which is involved in brain development (including areas of the brain that are associated with ADHD), was changed on the molecular level in babies whose mothers ate a diet high in sugars and fats during pregnancy. Children from the study who had changes to this gene were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of seven and 14 years old, but only if they exhibited conduct problems early in life.
The study, however, was small. Researchers looked at participants of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. That study had a total of 164 children, 83 of whom had symptoms of conduct disorder early in life, and 81 of whom had low levels of conduct problems. They examined DNA, specifically the IGF2 gene, and analyzed the mother’s diet during pregnancy. Changes in the IGF2 gene in the children were found most often in those whose mothers’ diets during pregnancy were high in sugar and fat. In turn, those children with changes to this gene were found to have a higher risk of developing ADHD, leading the scientists to link poor nutrition during pregnancy with ADHD.
The researchers of the current study hope to continue their research, looking into what foods or supplements during pregnancy could help reduce a child’s risk of developing ADHD. The results of this study should not been seen as a way to blame parents for their child’s ADHD. While it’s likely that both genetic and environmental factors can influence whether a child develops ADHD, the exact causes are not yet fully understood.
However, it is important to eat a healthy diet during pregnancy and early childhood. Poor nutrition can lead to a host of physical and psychiatric problems. The American Pregnancy Association has recommendations for daily consumption during pregnancy:
Two-four servings of fruit, including those that have vitamin C and folic acid
Four or more servings of vegetables, including green leafy vegetables
Six-11 servings of bread/grains, including whole grains
At least three servings of protein, avoiding fish that contain mercury
- At least four servings of dairy products
Because you are “eating for two,” the American Pregnancy Association recommends eating about 300 calories more per day than you would normally and talking to your doctor about prenatal vitamins. Eating a healthy diet during pregnancy increases the chances that both you and your child will be healthy.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.