You are 'what your mother ate' - How diet affects your future baby's health


You are 'what your mother ate' - How diet affects your future baby's health

We have all heard of the saying ' you are what you eat'. But it seems that what your mother ate is also important.

A study has linked a woman’s diet before she becomes pregnant to the long-term health of her future baby.

What a woman eats in the weeks leading up to conception could even affect her child’s risk of contracting illnesses, ranging from flu and HIV to cancer.

The study came from researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who say pre-conception diet is ‘crucial’. Study author Professor Andrew Prentice said: ‘The potential implications are enormous.’

Colleague Dr Matt Silver said: ‘It’s about not just starting to behave yourself once you know you are pregnant.’

During the research they studied 120 women in rural West Africa, where diets change markedly between the wet and dry seasons. Half had conceived at the peak of the dry season and half at the height of the wet season. The researchers began by measuring the nutrients in the blood of the women shortly into their pregnancy.

Then, when their children were born, their DNA was analysed. The study did not look at the genetic code itself but at its epigenetic modifications, or ‘marks’, that affect how and when a gene becomes active. Under or over-active genes can cause problems.

For one gene, called VTRNA2-1, the marks are set in the first few days of life. It was extra-active in babies conceived in the dry season, when food was plentiful. In its highly-active state, the gene protects against cancer. When it is less active, as in babies conceived in the rainy season, the body finds it easier to ward off viruses, from flu and tummy bugs to HIV.

With infections a much bigger killer than cancer in Africa, the discovery, detailed in the journal Genome Biology, could help explain why Gambian children conceived in the dry season tend to die young.

The nutrients known to be involved in setting the marks include vitamin B2, methionine, dimethyl glycine and folic acid. Good sources include eggs, fish, beans, grains, liver and leafy green vegetables.