Poor Nutrition in the Womb Triggers Permanent Genetic Changes

pregnant, dietThe new science of epigenetics explains how genes can be modified by the environment. A prime result of epigenetic inquiry has just been revealed -- a research report shows that rat fetuses receiving poor nutrition in the womb become genetically primed to be born into a nutrition-poor environment.

As a result of this genetic adaptation, the rats were likely to grow to smaller sizes, and they were also at higher risk for a host of health problems throughout their lives, such as diabetes, growth retardation, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and neurodevelopmental delays.

Although the study involved rats, the genes and cellular mechanisms involved are the same as those in humans.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Most people now understand that what a mother eats during pregnancy can have a major impact on her child’s future health. What may be news to some of you is the relatively new field of science called epigenetics, which explains how and why this happens.

Epigenetics is the study of how environmental factors like diet, stress and maternal nutrition can change gene function without altering the DNA sequence in any way. The changes occur when a certain factor, such as your diet, changes the expression of a certain gene or set of genes, essentially turning them on or off.

Researchers found that rat fetuses that received poor nutrition while in the womb experienced epigenetic changes that primed them for a nutrition-poor environment once they were born, thereby increasing their risk of health problems ranging from diabetes and heart disease to obesity.

Previous research has shown that these changes can last for two generations or more, meaning that even what your grandmother ate during pregnancy can have an impact on your health now.

Fortunately, while a poor diet in pregnancy can cause health problems for a child down the road, the opposite also holds true in that a healthy diet can help prevent health issues, even ones that you may have been predisposed to.

In one study from a few years ago, mice that were predisposed to obesity, diabetes and cancer grew up healthy because their mothers were fed supplements that blocked the genetic trigger.

Not only does this lend credence to the importance of nutrition in your health, but it highlights some of the amazing possibilities of epigenetics -- and the power you have to take control of your health.

The Most Important Dietary Steps to Take During Pregnancy

In order to “prime” your future child’s genes for health, rather than disease, here’s what you should focus on integrating into your diet:

Supplement with a high-quality animal based omega-3 fat, such as krill oil, before and during pregnancy. Omega-3 fats are absolutely vital for the complete development of your baby’s brain, and they can help prevent premature delivery.

Optimize your vitamin D levels. Ideally you should do this by getting proper sun exposure but you can also use a supplement as long as you monitor your levels. Vitamin D is essential for helping your baby’s brain develop properly, including reducing the risk of autism.

Eat a well-balanced diet, with plenty of fresh produce and healthy meats. One of the easiest ways to do this is by eating right for your nutritional type.

Take a high-quality probiotic. If you are not eating a lot of naturally fermented foods, such as kefir or natto, taking a probiotic supplement is important. Doing so during pregnancy and breastfeeding may promote your immune system, along with help protect your baby from allergies and eczema.

• Eat organic as much as possible. This will help reduce your exposure to pesticides and other chemicals that could harm your developing baby.

• Avoid non-fermented soy. The phytoestrogens in soy products such as soy milk, tofu, soy burgers, etc. can influence your baby’s hormones, leading to an increased risk of breast cancer and other health problems.

What Else Can Alter Your Baby’s Genes in the Womb?

Prenatal nutrition is a major factor in your baby’s future health, but it is not the only one. Stress and your emotions also play a major role.

The evidence is very clear, for instance, that infants whose mother’s were depressed while pregnant are more likely to be irritable and sleep erratically, show diminished responsiveness, and may develop problem behaviors during their early elementary school years.

The important thing to remember, though, is that it’s possible to repair the damage that’s been done. So even if your mother was malnourished or extremely stressed during pregnancy, you can take steps now to change the expression of your genes in a positive way.

Ultimately it is your lifestyle, not your genes, that determines your health as an adult.