Most women, once they learn they are pregnant, adopt a healthier lifestyle if they had any bad health habits before. Smoking, drinking, poor diet, and so on; responsible women try to curb whatever unfavorable habits they had, and to be maximally healthy at least until the baby is born.
But recent research from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggests that whatever a mother was eating even before the baby was conceived will influence, permanently, the performance of the baby’s genes.
The researchers, who published their work in the 29 April version of Nature Communications, carried out their studies in The Gambia, where there are two distinctive seasons throughout the year. Half of the year is considered “dry”, when vegetable consumption is poor, and the other half is the “rainy” season, when vegetables were available to eat.
The study involved examining the nutrient levels in the blood of 84 pregnant women who conceived at the peak of the rainy season, and 83 women who conceived during the dry season. Then the researchers examined six genes in the babies born to these women, during the babies’ first year of life.
The women who conceived during the rainy season, when they had access to leafy green vegetables, delivered babies whose genes had a higher, and healthier, level of “methylation”. This means that these babies’ genes (which are long strands of DNA), had small molecules attached to their genes called “methyl groups”.
These methyl groups are important because, when they permanently attach to various genes, they act as a gene “silencer”, meaning they prevent the genes from carrying out some function that the gene is capable of performing during the life of that person.
This gene silencing is a good thing, since many of the genes silenced are genes that predispose the baby to diseases later in life, including serious infections, cancer, and neurological diseases. So the babies born to mothers whose diets were nutritionally poor, had genes without the methyl groups that were necessary to silence these potentially dangerous genes.
Meaning that during these babies’ childhood and entire life, these genes were more likely to act, and cause disease… because the mother had a deficient diet around the time of conception.
The senior author of the study, Dr. Branwen Henning, said “Our results represent the first demonstration in humans that a mother’s nutritional well-being at the time of conception can change how her child’s genes will be interpreted, with a life-long impact.”
What does this research mean for women of child-bearing age who want to have children? Women hoping to have the healthiest babies should be thinking about their diet and lifestyle habits not only after they learn they are pregnant, but before; during the entire period they are hoping to become pregnant.
If you are hoping to get pregnant, don’t delay healthy habits. Eat a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, get regular exercise, and keep your weight under control, and once you are pregnant, keep up these good habits and take whatever pre-natal vitamins your doctor recommends. Your baby, and his genes, will appreciate your efforts during his entire life.
Read also in ProcuraMed:
Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)