How You Eat Before You're Pregnant Could Change Your Baby's Life

woman eating plate of fried foodFrom the minute a woman finds out she's pregnant, she faces a barrage of information about what she should be doing differently to promote her own and her baby's health. The "rules" we tend to talk about most often center around diet and prenatal vitamins. But now, a breakthrough study, published in Nature Communications, suggests that a woman's diet before conception can influence her baby's DNA  -- permanently.

While similar findings had been shown in animal studies, this is the first research involving humans -- specifically, 84 pregnant women in Gambia, where seasonal climates (rainy vs. dry) have a large influence on diet. In the rainy season, the women got fewer calories but more nutrient-rich vegetables, while in the dry season, they have more calories but dishes are less vitamin-packed.

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Depending on which diet they ate, some women lacked certain micronutrients (such as vitamin B2) or had slight changes to their body mass index (BMI). That, in turn, seemed to change whether genes were turned on or off in the earliest stage of embryonic development, explained nutritionist Andrew Prentice, who contributed to the study.

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The on-and-off switch is controlled by "decorating" the DNA with a tag called methylation. The study didn't look at how methylation affected overall fetal development or the baby's health later in life, but other research shows similar genetic changes may help determine a child's risk for some diseases, including diabetes, mental disorders, and autism.

The bottom-line: A mom's nutrition before she even gets pregnant, as well as in early pregnancy, is important and may have implications for our kids' health. In other words, we need to be thinking about eating a well-balanced diet before even trying to conceive, because the wellness of our children depend on it.

While the study itself is pretty groundbreaking, it's not all that crazy a conclusion when you think about it. After all, our diets and lifestyles influence our fertility. So if we clean up our acts before trying -- making a concerted effort to eat a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet -- we may have an even easier time conceiving ... and set the stage for a healthy pregnancy and, most importantly, a healthier child. It's a win all-around.

What do you think about this new research? Do you feel like the way you ate before and in early pregnancy influenced your child's health?

 

Image via Phillipe Put/Flickr

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