Friday, May 2nd, 2014
The types of foods a mother-to-be eats just before she becomes pregnant may have an effect on her baby’s genetic development–especially if there are nutritional deficiencies in the mother’s diet. More from NPR on a new study published in the journal Nature Communications:
The study, published in Nature Communications, is the first to show that an environmental factor during the first few days of development can change DNA long term.
The researchers didn’t look at how these genetic changes affect overall fetal development or the baby’s health later in life. And they analyzed only six genes.
But there’s growing from other studies that similar types of genetic changes may help determine a child’s risk for some diseases, including diabetes, mental disorders and autism.
“Can diet affect other genes? What’s the biological impact of those [DNA] modifications? At the moment we don’t know the answer to those questions,” says nutritionist , who contributed to the study. “But subsequent research we have — and haven’t [yet] published — says it does matter.”
Now we’re not talking about altering the DNA code itself — you know, the building blocks of genes, the ? Rather, Prentice says the dietary effects he and his team have found seem to be changing whether genes are turned on or off in that earliest stage of embryonic development.
This on-and-off switch is controlled by decorating the DNA with a special tag, called . How much the six genes got tagged in the developing embryo depended on the levels of a few micronutrients in the mom’s blood at the time of conception, Prentice and his team found.
The team examined several B vitamins and nutrients associated with them. They couldn’t pinpoint exactly which ones were most important. But in general, when several of these nutrients, including vitamin B2, were at lower levels in mom’s blood, the six genes had less methylation.
“The vitamin levels [in all the women] weren’t way out of the normal range either,” Prentice says. “If you took the blood to your doctor, he would say they were normal.”
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Thursday, March 20th, 2014
Kids who crave sweet and salty snacks might not only be drawn in by multicolored products and clever marketing schemes–they may actually be responding to a developmental instinct to ingest energy-boosting foods while they’re doing their most dramatic growth and development. More on a study from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, from NPR.org:
The study included 108 kids, aged 5 to 10, as well as their moms. It turned out that the children who preferred sweet solutions over salty ones tended to be tall for their age. And there was a slight correlation between sweet preference and a biomarker of growth found in the kids’ urine.
Julie Mennella, the study’s lead author and a biopsychologist at Monell, says that scientists have known for a while that kids prefer both sweeter and saltier tastes than adults, and that kids to like sugar and salt. But no one could say exactly why.
This study suggests it has to do with children’s development — kids crave more energy and sugar because they’re growing, Mennella tells The Salt. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, since kids who sought out more calories were probably more likely to survive.
The researchers also looked into children’s’ salt intake, and found that the kids who preferred the saltiest foods tended to have more body fat. Mennella says that kids’ salt cravings might also be related to development, since our bodies associate salt with minerals essential to growth.
But the research, which Monday in the journal PLOS One, only shows that sweet and salty preferences are correlated to growth in children; it can’t show exactly how they’re related. Bigger, longitudinal studies would tell us more, Mennella says.
In the meantime, she says, the study does confirm just how hardwired kids are to consume super-sugary foods — like the candy and cereals that are now so heavily marketed to them. Nowadays, American children consume far and than they actually need.
And the widespread availability of these foods these days makes it easy for kids to overindulge, putting them at risk for obesity and diabetes, she says.
“When you understand the biology of taste, you realize how vulnerable they are to the food environment,” Mennella says.
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Monday, March 17th, 2014
A major doctor’s group is urging obstetricians to have serious, often difficult conversations with their patients, telling them that being overweight or obese can have negative impact on both their fertility and their pregnancy health. More from Time.com:
The latest news about the negative effects of our nation’s obesity epidemic on everything from fertility to pregnancy and maternal mortality recently prompted the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to urge doctors to talk with patients about the benefits of slimming down before trying to conceive. It’s part of an ongoing push to make chats about women’s “reproductive lifespan” as routine as an annual pap smear. Just as doctors have historically shied away from telling women that their eggs are getting too old, many haven’t been eager to point out that a woman’s size might come in between her and her dream of becoming a mother.
“For a woman who’s been trying for a year, the last thing she wants to hear is to take another year off to lose weight,” explains Dr. Jeanne Conry, ACOG president and assistant physician in chief at The Permanente Medical Group in Roseville, California. “But if a woman walks into my office who’s been trying to get pregnant and she has a body mass index of 30 or over [more than 180 pounds for a 5’5” woman] and she’s having an irregular period, the first thing we’re going to do is discuss a healthy diet and exercise program.”
Of course, doctors point out that the majority of the estimated 30% of obese women in the U.S. have no problems conceiving. But there’s a growing body of evidence that’s difficult to ignore. Obesity raises a woman’s risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension, premature delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth. A mother’s chance of having to undergo a caesarian section is 34% if her BMI is over 30, and 47% if her BMI is over 35—compared to 21% for women with a BMI under 30, according to one study. There’s even evidence that babies born to obese women have a greater chance of suffering neural defects than those whose mothers are normal weight, and will be at greater risk of being obese themselves.
In one recent survey of more than 3,300 women, one-third responded they didn’t believe or were unsure whether a woman’s weight affected her chances of conceiving. The doctors’ organization hopes that encouraging ob-gyns to broach the topic will educate women about that connection, considering that about 6% of infertility is due to obesity (another 6% is due to being too thin), according to statistics by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (That goes for men, too, since a recent French study showed their excess poundage contributed to low sperm production.) The good news is that 70% of these women will get pregnant naturally after they lose or gain enough weight to get closer to a healthier BMI.
The other goal is to help patients set and achieve weight-loss goals, or even consider weight loss surgery if they’re severely obese. But adding those expectations on top of conceiving can feel daunting to many women, says Julie Friedman, PhD, a psychologist who directs a weight management program comprised of counseling, workshops, and support groups, at Insight Behavioral Health Centers, a chain of outpatient mental health treatment centers based in Chicago. “They’ve struggled with their weight their whole lives and now they’re going through something so stressful, saying ‘Now you’re telling me to lose weight when I’m this stressed out and trying for a baby?’”
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Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
Women who eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins are fifteen percent less likely to deliver their babies prematurely, according to a new study published by Swedish researchers.
‘Pregnant women have many reasons to choose a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grain products and some types of fish, but this is the first time we can statistically link healthy eating habits to reduced risk of preterm delivery,’ says Linda Englund-Ögge, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.
Preterm delivery, defined as spontaneous or induced delivery before the end of gestational week 37, can be associated with acute and long-term complications and is a major problem in modern maternity care. Measures to prevent preterm delivery are therefore of high priority.
When asked whether these findings should lead to stricter dietary standards or guidelines for pregnant women, Englund-Ögge said, “No, and it is not harmful to occasionally eat something unhealthy. But our study shows that the dietary recommendations given to pregnant women are important.”
She continued, “Dietary studies can be very complex. Any given food item may contain a wide range of substances and is usually consumed together with other foods. This makes it difficult to find out its exact effects of one single food. We show that there is a statistically established link between a healthy diet and reduced risk of preterm delivery, but our study wasn’t designed to identify any underlying mechanisms.”
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Monday, January 20th, 2014
American families are eating more meals at home, and those meals are healthier, a new study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found. The findings include that Americans are consuming fewer calories overall, family meals are becoming more common, and more people are paying attention to the quality of the food they buy. More from Time.com:
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You can thank the recession, but when the economy started to sour in 2007, Americans stopped eating at restaurants and started to cook more meals at home. And most families have been listening to the onslaught of advice about how to eat healthier, since those meals were also respectably nutritious. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, adults born from 1946 to 1985 who were asked about their diets from 2005 to 2010 consumed fewer calories and less cholesterol and unhealthy fats.
“It’s good news for us,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, in a press conference.
Concannon said that while meals at home still make up a minority of the average American’s diet, the trend is encouraging and hopefully represents the beginning of a shift in the way families eat.