New Research Shows Permanent Gene Changes

Researchers have discovered that nutrition at the time of conception can alter a baby's genes permanently.

Pregnancy healthy eating

Photo credit: Maria Teijeiro/OJO Images/Getty Images

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published a report that outlines the effects a woman's diet has on her baby. And we're not talking about her pregnancy diet, as you might expect. No, we're talking about her pre-pregnancy diet. Apparently what a mother eats (or lacks nutritionally) before she conceives a baby can permanently alter her child's genes.

Nutrition during conception

Once you find out you're expecting, your diet usually changes. Sometimes it's due to aversions and cravings, but most pregnant moms try to eat a healthier diet. However, it turns out that what your nutrition status is like right around conception can play a big part in your baby's genetic makeup.

The team studied six genes and what can cause them to turn on or off, focusing on specific nutritional components, such as B vitamins, and what their effects are on those genes. The switch for turning genes on or off is controlled by methylation, and they discovered that in women whose blood levels of these particular nutrients were low, these genes had less methylation.

Even more notable, they found that the levels weren't out of normal range — they were just lower than the cases where there was more methylation on the genes. They also found that the higher a woman's BMI at the time of conception, the less methylation was present, and again, the women's weights weren't out of range.

In essence, they found that there were just a few subtle differences that make permanent changes in genes. The team did not study how this affected fetal development, nor the child's health as he grew up.

Translating into the real world

This research is fascinating. We all know that experts suggest getting to your optimal weight before pregnancy, and beginning a quality diet way before you are told to at your first appointment is a sound idea. However, pregnancy doesn't always happen when we expect it to. The point to take away, then, is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and strive for your ideal weight whether pregnancy is on the horizon or not.

More on pregnancy health

8 Expert tips for healthy pregnancy nutrition
Want a fit pregnancy? Try Prenatal Dance
How to quit smoking while pregnant


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