HOW EARLY LIFE EVENTS CAN ALTER GENES
Epigenetic research has linked susceptibility to chronic illness later in life with epigenetic disturbances occurring during pregnancy.
Epigenetics is an emerging area of scientific research that shows us how various influences affect the expression of our genes. At the heart of every cell in our body sits DNA which stores codes or information as chemicals, known as the epigenome (1,5).
During development, our unique epigenetic signature can determine how genes are expressed (5). The mechanism used by cells to control gene expression vital to embryo development is called DNA methylation. These signals can turn genes on or off. Researchers have linked abnormal DNA methylation to some diseases (7,8).
Our baby’s epigenome can be affected positively or negatively throughout pregnancy and may determine their susceptibility to heart disease, obesity and cancer (15, 5). Epigenetics also plays a major role in developing metabolism, brain architecture and even the behaviour of our offspring (13).
EPIGENETIC CHANGES CAN LAST A LIFTIME AND BEYOND
The welfare and health of future generations depends on genetic information, environmental factors and lifestyle. Developing healthy habits can reduce the risk of permanent genetic changes. Your lifestyle during preconception and pregnancy, and of your ancestors can influence your offspring’s epigenome (15, 13, 5). Enhancing your (and your partners) overall health when you decide to start a family is a good place to start (11, 7).
What you do, eat, feel and experience during pregnancy can impact on the development of your baby, well into the future (10).
Epigenetic research has linked susceptibility to chronic illness later in life with epigenetic disturbances occurring during pregnancy (11,1). This is called fetal programming, which can be triggered by a mother’s poor diet, stress, smoking, pre-existing disease (Diabetes or Hypertension), environmental factors and overall well-being (11).
YOUR LIFESTYLE AFFECTS THE WAY YOUR BABIES GENES ARE EXPRESSED
Although we cannot rewrite the past, we can help build healthier futures.
Optimum lifestyle choices are imperative before and during pregnancy to help minimise any susceptibilities to chronic ill health for you and your baby (6,16). Many epigenetic programmes are laid down during embryonic development. A healthy hormonal and epigenetic relationship is crucial for a good functioning placenta and successful pregnancy (17).
There are important links between dietary patterns and DNA Methylation (1). Cells divide rapidly whilst your baby’s organs are developing and can be altered permanently (11). Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes have been on the increase, your weight contributes to epigenetic changes (3,15,13). Obesity can impart marks and alter the DNA of your children. Highlighting the importance of maintaining healthy weight and optimum nutrition before and during pregnancy (15, 7).
DIET AND NUTRITION CAN ALTER GENES
Requirements for micronutrients increases during pregnancy to support fetal and infant growth (11). Insulin resistance has been found in babies of mothers deficient in some micronutrients and those with gestational diabetes (2,7).
The diet of mothers during pregnancy can modify gene expression and change the way we develop (1,11).
Adequate vitamin intake during pregnancy supports optimal methylation (1,2,7).
Researchers have identified a group of micronutrients called methyl donors which support epigenetic processes. These include choline, folate, B vitamins and betaine, found in fortified cereals, whole grains and leafy green vegetables (2, 7).
Nutritious diets during pregnancy can help counteract negative effects of toxins and environmental factors like pollution (1).
OPTIMUM NUTRITION AND FETAL PROGRAMMING
Our eating habits can directly program the eating habits of our offspring, referred to as fetal programming (11).
Just as the larvae of bees need royal jelly to become Queen Bees, you need nutritious food to grow healthy babies! (14).
Undernourishment during pregnancy can also interfere with your baby’s development and negatively influence epigenetic changes (13).
Suboptimal nutrition resulting from imbalanced diets during pregnancy contributes to, placental inefficiency, growth restriction, susceptibility to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and metabolic disorders (11, 6).
WHAT THE RESEARCH TELLS US
High fat or calorific diets and low protein diets can trigger unfavourable epigenetic patterns making offspring vulnerable to obesity (11, 6).
Hyperglycaemia during early pregnancy triggers changes to hormones, your placenta, blood flow and may cause excessive fetal growth (11, 6).
Birthweights of babies out of normal range increases susceptibility to hypertension in later life (11).
Epigenetics is partly regulated by enzymes that depend on our diet and gut bacteria, a healthy balanced diet is essential (12, 7).
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT POSITIVE EPIGENETIC CHANGES DURING PREGNANCY
Ensure optimum nutrition and a diet of:
High protein and low-fat.
Less red meat, salt and processed food.
Low-glycaemic Mediterranean diet including whole fruits, green leafy vegetables, grains, chicken, fish and monounsaturated fats like olive oil (1).
Regular meals and snacks.
Limit caffeine intake.
Stay well hydrated.
Food safety and hygiene.
Dietary deficiencies are addressed with supplementation of micronutrients; prenatal vitamins (1,12).
MATERNAL BEHAVIOURS CAN ALTER GENES!
How to support a healthy epigenome:
Create positive nurturing environments together
Keep stress at bay
Ensure good mental health (1, 11).
Avoid toxins/pollutants, alcohol and drugs
Consider pharmaceutical medications carefully (5,16).
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