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Studies Suggest Long-Term Impact of Diet Starts Before Birth

Researchers are finding out more and more about how a pregnant woman's diet can affect her child's health long after the child is born. The latest research shows that some of those effects can begin within days of conception.

Women are encouraged to start taking pre-natal vitamins and watching what they eat as soon as they learn they are pregnant to help ensure a healthy baby. But it appears that maternal health before pregnancy also has an impact.

For three-and-a-half days after lab mice or rats had mated, professor Tom Fleming and his colleagues at Britain's University of Southampton fed them a diet that was low in protein.

"Not [a] starvation [diet]," he says, "We're just looking here at the lower end of the range, but sufficient for a non-pregnant animal to be living on."

Fleming compared their offspring to the babies of animals fed a normal, higher-protein diet for those three-and-a-half days.

The young rodents from the low-protein group had 10 percent higher blood pressure and were more hyperactive than the control group.

The study was presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction. Another study presented at the same meeting found animals with vitamin B deficiencies in the very early days of pregnancy also had offspring with higher blood pressure. These young animals tended to be obese and were at risk for diabetes.

So, Fleming says it's best to eat right if you're even thinking about getting pregnant.

"The best message is, good nutrition at the time of conception would be a wise move," he says.