First we were telling you what to eat WHILE you’re pregnant. Now, we’re here to lecture you about what you eat BEFORE you get pregnant. Okay, perhaps “lecture” is a strong word choice, but after the recent studies we’re reading about women’s pre-pregnancy diets and their connection to their baby’s lifelong health, we can’t help but support the findings by spreading the word.
Your Future Child’s Health May Depend on the Foods You’re Eating Right Now
As with all scientific studies, it may be years before we can make overarching and conclusive statements about a woman’s diet and her future children’s genetics and health markers. However, the results of current studies may lead doctors like us to begin prescribing dietary recommendations and/or vitamin/mineral supplements when female patients express an interest in conceiving.
Lead researcher Andrew Prentice, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said, “The key message is that a mother’s nutrition before she becomes pregnant is super-critical. There is a lot going on before the moment of conception.” He came to this conclusion after studying the pre-pregnancy diets of almost 170 newly pregnant women in Gambia, Africa. The research team drew blood samples and analyzed levels of certain nutrients in the women’s bodies.
Half of the women had conceived their children during the dry season and half had conceived during the rainy season. These climactic differences are significant because a Gambian woman’s access to nutritious foods vary significantly during these distinct seasons. Once the women gave birth, Prentice and his team carefully analyzed the babies’ DNA and quizzed the women in detail about their diets. The results were very interesting and could shift the way we view a woman’s diet in significant ways.
Foods You Eat Now Can Pre-dispose Your Baby for Cancer, Diabetes and Other Health Conditions
When Professor Prentice compiled all of the information and analyzed the resulting data, he found there was distinct correlation between the mother’s quality of pre-pregnancy nutrition and the quality of her baby’s genes. Interestingly, what she ate before she was pregnant had a greater significance on the way her baby’s genes were expressed than the foods she consumed during the pregnancy.
The genes we carry aren’t a guarantee of what medical or health conditions we will experience later on. Rather, they are indicators. Chemical and environmental factors can signal certain genes on or off; these are called “epigenetic changes”. If genes become under- or over-active, there can be a problem. Some of these changes can be corrected overtime, based on one’s diet, lifestyle, etc., others cannot. Fortunately, the researchers were able to narrow down some of the nutrients that were most important for a baby’s healthy gene expression.
These included B2, B6 and B12, as well as folic acid (B9), choline and methionine. While you can boost your nutrient intake via supplements, the best means of metabolizing them into your body is by eating foods in which they are found naturally. Women whose diets included foods with healthy B vitamin, choline and methionine levels before and around the time of their conception were more likely to have babies that lacked the potential for under- or over-active genes. Examples of foods high in these particular compounds include leafy greens, milk, and protein. Always check with your healthcare professional before adding any new supplements to your diet to make sure they are the right ones for you.
This isn’t the first study to show that a mother’s pre-conception diet had an impact on her offspring’s gene expression. Nearly 10-years ago, researchers demonstrated that the diets of mother mice before conception altered their pups’ coat color. Studies like these comprise a growing body of evidence that there is a direct link between a mothers’ diet before, during and after conception and the health of her baby.
Interested in learning more about women’s health issues and prenatal well-being? Make an appointment with Overlake OBGYN.