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The importance of nutrition even before pregnancy!

A recent study published in Nature Communications suggests that what a woman eats before she is pregnant can have an impact on the health of her future children. The study was conducted with the Medical Research Council’s unit in Gambia, West Africa and led by Dr. Andrew Prentice, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Dr. Prentice and his team measured the concentration of various nutrients in the blood of approximately 170 newly pregnant women in the Gambia. Half of the women had conceived during the rainy season and half had become pregnant during the dry season. They also studied the DNA of their babies once they were born, and gathered additional information about the women’s diet through the rainy and dry seasons.

The results indicated a link between the women’s diet and their children’s genes. What a woman ate before her pregnancy was more crucial to her child’s genetic makeup than what she ate during her pregnancy. The difference appeared to be due to “epigenetic” changes to the baby’s DNA – referring to the chemical changes within DNA that can impact when genes become active and how active they are. Under and over active genes can result in health problems for a child. The nutrients that are needed to make the chemical changes in DNA include vitamins B2, B6, and B12 as well as choline, methionine, and folic acid.

These findings are part of a growing body of research which suggests that a child’s health is programmed very early in life – including in the womb and even before conception.  This means that women who want to get pregnant in the future should pay attention to their nutrition before trying to conceive. Although Dr. Prentice says that it’s too early to give advice based on their findings, he suggests that good sources of the necessary nutrients are milk, leafy vegetables, and protein. He says of his research:

“The key message is that a mother’s nutrition before she becomes pregnant is super-critical.”

Read more about women’s fertility and nutrition here, here, and here.

Read more about the study here.

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