Many expecting moms-to-be are super careful about what they eat while pregnant, but could your diet prior to conception possibly affect your baby's future health? A new study says it just may. Scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine released research today that found that a mother's nutritional status at the time of conception can permanently alter a gene that could potentially affect her future child's immunity and cancer risks.
In particular, a tumor-suppressing gene known as VTRNA20-1 is especially susceptible to changes to a woman's diet during the first few days of conception. And if this gene doesn't function properly or up to its full potential, in can increase the risk of disease for a developing baby. Authors of the study say this research offers the "first concrete evidence" that a woman's diet before pregnancy is critically important for the baby's long-term health.
One of the author's of the study, professor Andrew Prentice emphasizes the importance of his findings: "If a mother's diet is poor then it causes a whole lot of damage to the genome which has a shotgun effect, so a baby might have possible adverse outcomes. This general phenomenon might explain preterm births, problems in pregnancy, brain defects, or why some babies are born too small." He goes on to say, "We've moved the target of intervention to before pregnancy. Our work is showing the stable door has been closed by then, so we've got to get it right for conception. ... We could potentially clean up a lot of adverse pregnancy outcomes by getting the diet right."
Scientists hope the findings will encourage giving women—particularly young women in areas where they're expected to have children soon after getting married—proper care and nutritional support prior to actually getting pregnant.