News / Health

Study: Mother’s Diet Before Conception Can Alter Child's Genes, Affect Health

FILE - Mariama Diokh throws salt onto a pile while her 5-month-old infant sits nearby on the Senegal coast close to the Gambian border, June 2006.
FILE - Mariama Diokh throws salt onto a pile while her 5-month-old infant sits nearby on the Senegal coast close to the Gambian border, June 2006.
Jennifer Lazuta
A mother’s diet before conception can alter her child’s genes permanently, potentially making them more prone to lifelong health problems, researchers found in a study published Tuesday in the online science journal Nature Communications.

The children of women who conceived during Gambia’s lean season had different genetic markers on their DNA compared to the children of women who conceived during the harvest season, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported.

Andrew Prentice, director of the MRC International Nutrition Group and one of the authors of the study, explained.

“I think everybody understands that we inherit our genes from our parents and that those are the main ways in which we resemble our parents and we inherit the characteristics they had," he said. "What fewer people know is that those genes can actually be altered and they can be altered by several processes, which are very complicated and not yet fully understood, but one of these involves adding little markers onto the genes, which can switch some genes on or turn them off."

Prentice and his colleagues studied how diet affects which genes are turned on or off by comparing two groups of women in rural Gambia: one that conceived during the dry season, when food is lacking in both quantity and quality, and one that conceived during the rainy season, when mothers have access to more protein and high-energy meals.

The researchers followed more than 2,000 women across 34 villages between July 2009 and July 2011.

Each time a woman gave birth, the researchers measured the markers on the baby's genes.

“To our great surprise, we found very strong effects in the different levels of markings, according to whether the babies had been conceived in the dry season or the rainy season. ... So what this tells us is that a mother’s diet in preparation for pregnancy or right at the moment of conception is highly crucial to how these genes are marked and that this almost inevitably will have lasting effects on their baby’s health,” Prentice said.

Researchers do not know precisely what the affected genes are responsible for, but are believed to determine susceptibility to cancer later in life, as well as weight gain and obesity, and the probability of dying from infectious diseases as a young adult.

In addition to folic acid, which has already been shown to help the development of babies, the study concluded vitamin B and a chemical compound known as choline, which is found in eggs and certain animal products, are necessary to achieving the “good” markings on the genes and improving the long-term health of a child.

Senior author Branwen Hennig, senior investigator scientist with MRC in Gambia, 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."
 
Prentice said, “Our ultimate goal is to define an optimal diet for mothers-to-be. ... Preconceptional folic acid is already used to prevent defects in embryos. Now our research is pointing towards the need for a cocktail of nutrients, which could come from the diet or from supplements.”

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More