While the complex interactions between maternal diet and infant health are not yet fully understood – it is very clear that what a mother consumes while pregnant has an important and possibly lasting effect on her child’s health. But now, new research in mice suggests that what is eaten before pregnancy might be just as important for long term health.
Writing in The FASEB Journal, Dr Mihai Niculescu and his colleagues reveal that the diet fed to a group of female before pregnancy chemically altered their DNA – and such changes passed to her offspring.
These DNA alterations, known as ‘epigenetic’ changes, drastically affected the pups' metabolism of many essential fatty acids, said the researchers – who added that their results could have a ‘profound impact’ on future research for diabetes, obesity, cancer, and immune disorders.
"As parents, we have to understand better that our responsibilities to our children are not only of a social, economical, or educational nature, but that our own biological status can contribute to the fate of our children, and this effect can be long-lasting," said Niculescu.
"My hope is that, along with many other scientists, we will reveal this tight biological relationship between us as parents, and our children, and how we can improve the lives of our children using our own biological machinery," he said.
The new study reveals that the type of pre-pregnancy diet fed to mice diet induced epigenetic changes that were inherited by her pups.
To make this discovery, Niculescu and his team colleagues split mouse females into two groups before gestation, and fed them either a control diet, or a diet deficient in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Immediately after mothers delivered the pups, each of these two initial groups were further split in two – so that each half of the initial groups received a flaxseed oil supplemented diet (rich in ALA), while the other halves from each group remained on the same diet.
The team then used blood and liver samples to look at polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) levels and the DNA methylation of a gene called Fads2, which regulates PUFA metabolism.
A diet short of ALA resulted in modifications in the Fads2 gene which led to a modified metabolism in both the months and her offspring, said the researchers – who revealed that the pups’ ability to transform PUFAs in their own livers was influenced by both the mother's dietary intake, and also by maternal Fads2 methylation status.
The authors, said that later supplementation with flaxseed oil increased the methylation of the gene, which, in turn, decreased the activation of the gene in pups – offering up the possibility that maternal supplementation of ALA could be of benefit for those who lacked enough before pregnancy.
Source: FASEB Journal
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1096/fj.12-210724fj.12-210724
“Perinatal manipulation of α-linolenic acid intake induces epigenetic changes in maternal and offspring livers”
Authors: Mihai D. Niculescu, Daniel S. Lupu, Corneliu N. Craciunescu