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We Are What Our Mothers Ate?
Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The mother's health prior to conception is more important then previously thought. Maternal nutrition, protein intake and level of fat in the diet may cause epigenetic changes in the developing fetus that can have long-term health consequences.
Mothers' health in the days and weeks prior to becoming pregnant may determine the health of offspring much later in life, according to results of studies reported. These studies demonstrate that maternal nutrition, protein intake and level of fat in the diet may cause epigenetic changes in the developing fetus that can have long-term health consequences.
The time between ovulation and conception may be a critical one for maternal and fetal health, according to Kelle Moley, M.D., Washington University School of Medicine. In mouse studies, she found that subtle differences in maternal metabolism had long-lasting effects. Indeed, when Dr. Moley transferred embryos from a diabetic mouse into a non-diabetic mouse shortly after egg implantation, she noted neural tube defects, heart defects, limb deformities and growth defects in offspring. These findings indicate that we may need to re-direct our ideas about maternal health to the time prior to pregnancy, she says.
Are we encouraging pregnant women to take vitamins when it may be too late to impact the health of a growing fetus? According to Kevin Sinclair, Ph.D., University of Nottingham, maternal nutrition even at the time of conception can alter fetal development. In studies with sheep and rodents, he found that offspring of mothers with vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies were fatter, became insulin resistant and had higher blood pressure by the time they reached middle-age, demonstrating that early molecular changes may not manifest themselves for many years.
Low protein levels in female mice during the first few moments of conception, when the egg is still dividing, caused abnormal growth, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and jumpy behavior in their offspring. According to Tom Fleming, Ph.D., University of Southampton, mice born to mothers with low protein grew bigger -- extracting as much nutrients as they could to compensate for poor nutrition while in the womb.
According to epigenetic theory, changes in the genome can happen at any time through the impact of environmental factors on the expression of genes over time. One of the most critical periods is early life when epigenetic memories are created that may impact a person's susceptibility to disease later in life, says Shuk-mei Ho, Ph.D., University of Cincinnati Medical Center. According to her research, these "memories" may remain dormant until an environmental trigger brings them to the surface, modifying risk for disease.
Source: Diabetes In Control: The studies were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction, July 20, 2009, "The Origins of Adult Disease."
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