I eat what you eat: Maternal Nutrition and Epigenetics

Potential mothers, new mothers and mothers of multiples often worry about how their nutrition will affect their children. With the high rates of childhood obesity, some mothers worry more than ever about what they are putting in their bodies. Although this could be a discussion that includes pesticides on food, chemicals in cleaners and even air pollution, let’s just focus on nutrition.

 

It has been shown that a strong predictor of a child’s future BMI is the mother’s pre-pregnancy BMI (Schou-Anderson et al, 2012). This prediction comes from two sources, environment (how parents eat directly influences how children eat) and genetics (especially epigenetics). Epigenetics is how our cells control gene expression without changing the core DNA sequence and can include both DNA methylation and histone modification. It is consistently reported that maternal diet can directly alter DNA binding sites (Aagaard-Tillery et al, 2008) and DNA methylation (Dudley et al, 2011) in the offspring of mothers fed high fat diets. High fat diets contain energy dense foods consisting of >45% of total calories from fat, essentially mirroring the typical Western diet, which is full of highly palatable, highly processed energy dense foods. While this is certainly not a comprehensive list of publications on this topic, it is safe to say that maternal diet can influence an offspring’s risk of developing obesity through epigenetics (a nice review here). Hence the idea that whatever you eat, your baby also experiences.

 

While this may not be a novel concept, it is more important than ever to educate mothers (and fathers!) about the influence their diet could have on their future children’s body composition and their overall risk for obesity-associated diseases. While this information may initially leave parents anxiously asking questions like “Is there anything I can do?!”; “Is the damage already done?”; or “What could I have done differently?”, our goal is to provide information that is both reassuring and accurate knowing that with the right nutritional decisions, your child will be just fine!

 

Multiple studies have shown interventions in eating patterns and exercise work for reducing obesity and risk for associated diseases (reviewed here, here, here, here, here etc.).

 

The trick? Implementing these changes in your families diet and exercise routines to change the trajectory that epigenetics may have imposed when your little one was no larger than a grain of rice.

 

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