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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs