A team of researchers has been looking into how an expectant mother’s diet can change her unborn baby’s DNA, and found certain genes can be turned on and off by the food and drink consumed before and during pregnancy.
The researchers studied more than 180 pregnant women in rural Gambia, half who conceived at the peak of the rainy season, and half who fell pregnant during the dry season.
They revealed that the children born from rainy season conceptions had higher rates of methylation – changes to DNA by way of chemical attachments – than the infants born after the dry season.
This was linked to differing levels of nutrients in the mothers’ blood, which in turn was determined by the type and amount of food available in the rural communities.
Dr. Branwen Hennig of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who led the study, told the BBC:
“Our results have shown that maternal nutrition pre-conception and in early pregnancy is important and may have implications for health outcomes of the next generation.
Women should have a well-balanced food diet prior to conception and during pregnancy.”
Her colleague and co-author Andrew Prentice added, “Our ultimate goal is to define an optimal diet for mothers-to-be that would prevent defects in the methylation process.”