What You Eat Before Pregnancy May Change Your Baby's DNA!
Why your pre-conception matters more than you thought.
Mama, we’ve all heard it said: good prenatal nutrition is the cornerstone of growing a healthy little person in nine short months. But what about what we eat before pregnancy? Does that matter? Yes, and maybe way more than we ever thought, say researchers, who have made a pretty groundbreaking find that a woman’s pre-conception diet can have long-term effects on her child’s health and—get this—even change her baby’s DNA.
The study, published in Nature Communications, analyzed the diets of a group of women living in rural Gambia, a country along the western coast of Africa. This area was chosen by researchers because families there still rely on their own gardens for most of their food, and thus experience major changes in their diets over the course of each year as the area goes through rainy seasons and dry seasons.
“The rainy season is often referred to as ‘the hungry season,’ and the dry season the ‘harvest season,’” said study author Robert Waterland, a nutritional epigeneticist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, in a press statement.
During the rainy season, researchers found that Gambian women tend to eat more leafy green vegetables, which are very high in folate, an important nutrient during pregnancy. During the dry season, women are more likely to eat harvested grains and legumes, including rice, millet, and peanuts.
When researchers looked at nutrient concentration in blood samples from pregnant women who conceived at the peak of the rainy season and women who conceived at the peak of the dry season, and then analyzed DNA samples from babies born to these women, they found that infants conceived during the rainy season had consistently higher rates of “methylation” in their DNA. As NPR reports, methylation is a change made to DNA that acts almost like an “on/off” switch that turns off or silence the expression of certain genes.
What does all this mean? With growing evidence that shows differences in genetic expression in children may help to explain why some kids are risk for certain diseases, including type 1 diabetes and autism, anything we can learn about what might flip the “on” switch on the “off” position is very important.
Researchers admit their study doesn’t go far enough to provide this kind of information.
But it’s a step in the right direction.
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