Diets of women before they conceive can affect health of baby

Research has suggested that a mother’s diet before she conceives a child can have an impact on the child’s long-term health later on, such as their risk of developing illnesses like cancer, the flu or HIV.
This information was announced by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, with Professor Andrew Prentice, the author of the study, saying: “The potential implications are enormous.”
In rural West Africa, they studied 120 women, whose diets varied considerably between the wet seasons and the dry seasons. 60 women conceived at the peak of the wet season, with the remaining half conceiving at the peak of the dry season.
A short period of time into their pregnancies, the researchers monitored the mothers’ blood to measure the nutrients present. They then analysed the babies’ DNA once they were born, looking at the epigenetic modifications (‘marks’) which can impact how and when each gene becomes active. This was significant because if genes are too active, or not active enough, they can cause health problems.
In a very-active state, the gene VTRNA2-1 helps to protect against cancer. When it is less active, it helps protect against infections. The researchers found that for those born in the dry season, a period of time when there was an abundant supply of food, their gene was highly active. Conversely, those born in the wet season had a less-active gene.
In Africa, viruses are much more common than cancer. Therefore, these findings may explain why there is a tendency for children born in The Gambia in the dry season to die young.
Dr Matt Silver, who worked on the research, called for more attention to be paid to diets before a pregnancy begins, with mothers needing to ensure they are getting enough nutrients. He said that beans, eggs, fish and grains are good sources of nutrients, as well as leafy green vegetables.

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