You Are What Your Mother Ate

pregnancy and dietResearch provides new insight into why poor diet during pregnancy negatively affects offspring’s long term health.

Poor diet during pregnancy increases offspring’s vulnerability to the effects of aging, new research has shown for the first time.

The research, by scientists from the University of Cambridge, provides important insight into why children born to mothers who consumed an unhealthy diet during pregnancy have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (a significant contributing factor to heart disease and cancer) later in life.

“What is most exciting about these findings is that we are now starting to really understand how nutrition during the first nine months of life spent in the womb shape our long term health by influencing how the cells in our body age,” said Dr Susan Ozanne, the senior author on the paper and British Heart Foundation Senior Fellow from the Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge.

It is well established that environmental factors interact with genes throughout life, affecting the expression of those genes and, consequently, tissue function and disease risk. Diet during critical periods of development, such as during the nine months in the womb, has been cited as one such environmental factor. Epigenetics, which refers to modifications to the DNA that regulate how much of a gene is produced, has been suggested to underlie these effects.

However, until now, very little was understood about the underlying mechanisms that control the interaction between diet during gestation and gene expression in offspring throughout their adult life. Research, funded by the BBSRC and the British Heart Foundation, has now shown that the gene Hnf4a, which has been linked to type 2 diabetes, is regulated by maternal diet through epigenetic modifications to our DNA. Additionally, they found that poor diet exacerbates the rate at which these key epigenetic modifications accumulate during the aging process.

Previous research has shown that the gene Hnf4a plays an important role both during development of the pancreas and later in the production of insulin. The researchers hypothesized that diet during pregnancy influences the expression of this gene later in life, thereby influencing the risk of diabetes.

To test their theory, the researchers used a well-established rat model where, by altering the protein content of the mother’s diet during pregnancy, the offspring develop type 2 diabetes in old age.

First, they studied the RNA from insulin secreting cells in the pancreas from offspring of normally fed as well as malnourished mothers in young adult life and in old age. When they compared the two, they found that there was a significant decrease in the expression of the Hnf4a gene in the offspring prone to type 2 diabetes. The expression of Hnf4a also decreased with age in both groups.

Second, they studied the DNA and found that the decrease of Hnf4a was caused by epigenetic changes. The age associated epigenetic silencing was more pronounced in rats exposed to poor maternal diet. They concluded that the epigenetic changes resulting from maternal diet and aging lead to the reduced expression of the Hnf4a gene, decreasing the function of the pancreas and therefore its ability to make insulin (and thereby increasing the risk of diabetes).

The scientists then studied the DNA from insulin secreting cells from human pancreases to show that expression of this important gene was controlled in the same way in humans.

“It is remarkable that maternal diet can mark our genes so they remember events in very early life,” said Dr Miguel Constancia, the senior co-author on the paper from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Metabolic Research Laboratories at the University of Cambridge. “Our findings reveal a novel mechanism by which maternal diet and aging interact through epigenetic processes to determine our risk of age-associated diseases.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“We already know that a healthy pregnancy is important in shaping a child’s health, and their risk of heart disease as they grow up. The reasons why are not well understood, but this study in rats adds to the evidence that a mother’s diet may sometimes alter the control of certain genes in her unborn child. It’s no reason for expectant mothers to be unduly worried. This research doesn’t change our advice that pregnant women should try to eat a healthy, balanced diet.”

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said:

“Epigenetics is a relatively young field of research with tremendous potential to underpin our understanding of many biological processes in all organisms. The fact that there is a relationship between the biology of a pregnant mother and the long term health of her child has been known for some time but our understanding of the biological processes behind some of the more subtle effects is still at a nascent stage. This study uncovers – through epigenetics and molecular biology research – an important piece of this puzzle and shows us how apparently minor changes within cells at the very earliest stages of development can have a major influence on our health into old age.”

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The research was published  07 March, 2011 in the journal PNAS.

27 comments for “You Are What Your Mother Ate

  1. March 10, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Could you explain more about what is considered a “poor diet” during pregnancy? I’m currently pregnant, and have been overeating due to being constantly ravenous. As a result, I have gained more weight than I should have. However, the things I have been overeating have been pretty healthy. Is it going to negatively effect my child that I have been eating more than my fair share of fresh vegetables and fruit, fat free Greek yogurt, oatmeal, and sharp cheddar cheese with hot sauce? Is the problem with quantity or rather the quality of the food?

  2. March 11, 2011 at 1:06 am

    A major new study shows that a pregnant mother’s diet not only sensitizes the fetus to those smells and flavors, but physically changes the brain directly impacting what the infant eats and drinks in the future.

    “If the mother drinks alcohol, her child may be more attracted to alcohol because the developing fetus “expects” that whatever comes from the mother must be safe. If she eats healthy food, the child will prefer healthy food.”

    Also, the problem with alcohol is Fetal alcohol syndrome which was first reported in the international literature by Smith and Jones in 1973. Before that, Lemoine published a series of 127 cases in France, highlighting the phenotypic presentation of people exposed to alcohol while pregnant.

    The neurocognitive deficits in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are pervasive. They include hyperactivity, impulsivity, difficulties with planning and mental organisation, concrete thinking, visuospatial problems, lack of awareness of social cues, and difficulties understanding the consequences of their own behaviour. They can cause immense distress and persistent difficulties for the affected individual.

    Regarding healthy food, the American Dietetic Association recommends to think about including fruits and vegetables from all color families to provide your body with a rainbow of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, substances that protect the cells in your body. Aim for at least three different colors at each meal to obtain maximum health benefits.

    more info…
    National Nutrition Month Tips – Eat Right with Color

    Low level alcohol consumption and the fetus

    Study shows pregnant mother’s diet impacts infant’s sense of smell

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  5. July 9, 2012 at 1:41 pm

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  6. November 10, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Taking phentermine together along with other diet meducations like fenfluraminbe (Phen-Fen) or
    dexfenfluramine (Redux) might cause a rare fatal lung dysfunction called pulmonary hypertension.
    Thee underlying issues involving diet and exercise must bbe
    fixed for any meaningful long term weight control to be achieved.
    Many people are seeking that ‘magic’ pill thyat is going to take them from ffat to slim overnight,
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  7. November 10, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    But I hadn’t been outside when it first started,
    so I knew that couldn’t be it. It is technically classifioed as an anorectic, or appetite suppressant,
    but it can also have a direct impact on your metabolism.
    The weight loss produced on these pills is greatest during the first few weeks of therapy.

  8. November 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Avoid packaged and fried fods and replace them with resh green vegetables and fruits.
    Tese can bbe goood choices for those concerned about keeping only “natural” products in their bodies,
    but the effects of such products for weight loss and appetite restriction
    are far less dramatic. The maajor advantages oof Phen-Pro combination are that it has longer effects to
    hinder the appetyite strongly annd the phentermine is well suited for over-weightpatients.

  9. November 10, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    One can try to call the amount or send a communication.

    The study had 756 patients of all ages withh a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater and aan average HA1c level of 5.
    With me having Scoliosis and not being able to do much, exdercise wasn’t much
    of an option.

  10. November 10, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    So keedp in mind that breaking, crushing or chewing of medication cann initiate thhe absorption of medication
    before it reaches in the stomach, which can be unsafe for the body.
    It is technically classified as an anorectic, or appetite suppressant, but it can also have a difect impact on your metabolism.
    Many people are seeking that ‘magic’ pill that is going
    to take them from fat to slim overnight, but Qsymia,
    nor Belvfiq ‘ the weight loss pill approved earlier this year ‘ is
    offering such promises without risk.

  11. November 10, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    But in most from the situations, consumers arre unable to cope up with these issues; hence most of the medication pros launched weight decline tablets while in thee market place.
    Read the terms and conditions without overlooking anything hat might seem negligible.
    The weight loss produced on these pills is greatest during the first feew weeks of
    therapy.

  12. November 10, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    There are vvarious combinations followed nowadays
    and one among tem is the union of Phentermine and Fenfluramine and that is popularly
    known as Phen Fen. These can be good choices for those concerned about kreping
    only “natural” products in their bodies, but the effects of such products for weight loss and appetiite restriction are far less dramatic.
    I took that prescription straight to CVS to get filled.

  13. November 10, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    So keep in mind that breaking, crushing oor chewing of medication can initiate the absorptfion of
    medication before it reaches in tthe stomach, which can be unsafe for the
    body. Hence taking this pill is accompanied bby change in lifestyle ‘ healthy food and proper exercise, in order to
    prevent the weight lost from gaining a rebound.

    Well, technically I had a dress, but I didn’t have a
    dress Iloved, but iit was too late to change that now.

  14. November 10, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Theee are various combinations followed nowadays and one among
    them is the union of Phenntermine and Fenfluramine and that is popularrly known as Phen Fen.
    It is technically classified as aan anorectic, orr appetite suppressant, butt it ccan also have
    a direct impact on your metabolism. Thee weight loss produced on these pilols is
    greatest during the first few weeks of therapy.

  15. November 10, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Besser on Good Morning America warns that this is not a new drug, bbut a combination of two drugs that have een on
    the market for severfal years. Read the terms and conditions witout overlooking anything that
    might seem negligible. The weight loss produced on these pills is greatest during tthe first few weeks of therapy.

  16. November 10, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Avooid packaged and fried foods and replace them with fresh
    green vegetables and fruits. The deputy director of
    the FDA division that oversees metabolic drugs stated, “I was a little surprised the vote went as it did”,
    the deputy director felt that although mwny panelists weren’t
    strongly against Qnexa, but possibly just had some lingering concerns that would make them vote no.
    The best thing about phentermine is that it
    offers hope to those who have struggled to lose weight.

  17. November 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Besser on Good Morning America warns that this is
    not a new drug, but a combination of two drugs
    that have been oon the market forr several years. These can be good choices ffor those concerned about keeping only
    “natural” products in their bodies, but the effects of such products ffor weight loss and appetite restriction are far less dramatic.
    With me having Scoliosis and not being able to do much, exercise wasn’t much of an option.

  18. November 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    But in most from the situations, consumers are unable to cope up with these issues; hence most
    of the medicaqtion pros launched weight declin tablets while
    in the market place. The underlying issues involving diet and exercis must be fixed for any
    meaningful long term weight control to be achieved. Withh me
    having Scoliosis and not being able to do much, exxercise
    wasn’t much of an option.

  19. November 10, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Avoid paxkaged and fried foods and replace hem with fresh green vegetyables and fruits.
    The deputy director of the FDA division that oversees metabolic drugs stated, “I was a little surprised the vote went as it did”, the
    deputy director felt that although many panelists weren’t strongly against Qnexa, but possibly just had some lingering concerns that would
    make them vote no. I took that prescription straight to CVS to get filled.

  20. November 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    So keep in mind that breaking, crushing or chewing of medication cann initiate
    the absorption of medication before it reaches in the stomach, which can
    be unsafe for the body. It is technically classifie as an anorectic, or appetite suppressant, but
    it cann aalso have a direct impact on your metabolism.

    The weight loss produced on these pills is greatest during
    the first few weeks of therapy.

  21. November 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    But in most from the situations, consumers are unable to cope up with these issues; hence
    most oof the mdication pros launched weight
    decline tablets while iin the market place.
    One popular medication for people who are overweight is Phentermine.
    Many people are seeking that ‘magic’ pill that is going to take them from fat to slim overnight,
    but Qsymia, nor Belviq ‘ the weight loss pill approved earlier this year ‘ is
    offering such promises without risk.

  22. November 10, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Avoid packaged and fried foods andd replace them with fresh green
    vegetables and fruits. It is available by prescription aand currently is being used to treat
    obesity. And now we are aware wit the fact that amphetamines can
    be very dangerous, and they are not safe weight-loss drugs anymore.

  23. November 10, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    So keep in mindd that breaking, crushing or chewing of medication can initiate thee absorption
    of medication before itt reaches in the stomach, which can bee unsafe for the body.
    It is technically classified as ann anorectic, or appetite suppressant, but it can lso have
    a direct impact onn your metabolism. I took that prescription straight to CVS tto get filled.

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  25. March 11, 2014 at 10:00 am

    The Cabbage Soup Diet, Margaret Dunbrot, Pages 10 & 11.

    After about two weeks on the eating plan, my stamina during
    workouts at the gym had decreased so my trainer suggested adding some fruit to my morning breakfast
    and then eating a handful of berries or a small
    glass of orange juice thirty minutes before arriving.
    Another thing we hear all the time is that raw food is better – as in healthier- than cooked
    food.

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