Mother’s diet modifies her child’s DNA

Courtesy of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine:

A mother’s diet before conception can permanently affect how her child’s genes function, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

The first such evidence of the effect in humans opens up the possibility that a mother’s diet before pregnancy could permanently affect many aspects of her children’s lifelong health.

Researchers from the MRC International Nutrition Group, based at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and MRC Unit, The Gambia, utilised a unique ‘experiment of nature’ in rural Gambia, where the population’s dependence on own grown foods and a markedly seasonal climate impose a large difference in people’s dietary patterns between rainy and dry seasons.

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Through a selection process involving over 2,000 women, the researchers enrolled pregnant women who conceived at the peak of the rainy season (84 women) and the peak of the dry season (83 women). By measuring the concentrations of nutrients in their blood, and later analysing blood and hair follicle samples from their 2-8 month old infants, they found that a mother’s diet before conception had a significant effect on the properties of her child’s DNA.

While a child’s genes are inherited directly from their parents, how these genes are expressed is controlled through ‘epigenetic’ modifications to the DNA. One such modification involves tagging gene regions with chemical compounds called methyl groups and results in silencing the genes. The addition of these compounds requires key nutrients including folate, vitamins B2, B6 and B12, choline and methionine. Continue reading

Higher vitamin D levels in pregnancy could help babies become stronger

Courtesy of the University of Southampton:

Children are likely to have stronger muscles if their mothers had a higher level of vitamin D in their body during pregnancy, according to new research from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU) at the University of Southampton.

Low vitamin D status has been linked to reduced muscle strength in adults and children, but little is known about how variation in a mother’s status during pregnancy affects her child.

Low vitamin D concentrations are common among young women in the UK, and although women are recommended to take an additional 10μg/day of vitamin D in pregnancy, supplementation is often not taken up.

In the research, published in the January edition of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, vitamin D levels were measured in 678 mothers in the later stages of pregnancy.

When the children were four years old, grip strength and muscle mass were measured. Results showed that the higher the levels of vitamin D in the mother, the higher the grip strength of the child, with an additional, but less pronounced association between mother’s vitamin D and child’s muscle mass. Continue reading