Washington, July 22 (ANI): The health of mothers in the days and weeks before conceiving a child is what determines the health of offspring much later in life, according to the results of recently presented studies.
The studies demonstrate that nutrition, protein intake and levels of fat in the mother's diet may cause epigenetic changes in the developing foetus that can have long-term health consequences.
Dr. Kelle Moley, from Washington University School of Medicine conducted mouse studies, in which she transferred embryos from a diabetic mouse into a non-diabetic mouse shortly after egg implantation.
She noted neural tube defects, heart defects, limb deformities and growth defects in offspring, which indicated that there is a need to re-direct the ideas about maternal health to the time prior to pregnancy.
Dr. Kevin Sinclair, at the University of Nottingham, said that vitamin intake even at the time of conception could alter foetal development.
In studies with sheep and rodents, he found that offspring of mothers with vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies were fatter, became insulin resistant and had higher blood pressure by the time they reached middle-age, demonstrating that early molecular changes may not manifest themselves for many years.
Low protein levels in female mice during the first few moments of conception, when the egg is still dividing, caused abnormal growth, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and jumpy behaviour in their offspring, according to Dr. Tom Fleming, at the University of Southampton.
He found that mice born to mothers with low protein grew bigger - extracting as much nutrients as they could to compensate for poor nutrition while in the womb.
According to epigenetic theory, changes in the genome can happen at any time through the impact of environmental factors on the expression of genes over time.
But Dr. Shuk-mei Ho, at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, said that one of the most critical periods is early life when epigenetic memories are created that may impact a person's susceptibility to disease later in life.
Her research found that these "memories" might remain dormant until an environmental trigger brings them to the surface, modifying risk for disease.
The studies have been reported at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Reproduction. (ANI)