News article

Maternal Diet May Have Effect Lasting More Than One Generation, New Research Suggests

Posted:  Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A new research found that diets which include high-fat elements can be just as harmful to the offspring as to a malnourished mother. What’s more, the effects can last for more than a generation.

According to Deborah Sloboda, professor, Biomedical Sciences at McMaster University, underweight babies are often the result of a meagre diet. They’re usually prone to obesity at later stages in their lives and reach puberty comparatively early than their peers.

Environmental stress is a big reason which affects the mother by reprogramming the genes of her children and grandchildren at the same time. Professor Sloboda says this is because a female foetus evidently has the follicle cells that gradually develop into eggs when reaching sexual maturity. This is especially true for the mother’s grandchildren.

Sloboda had conducted her research on women who were pregnant during wartime. Later she based her research on rats that had poor nutrition during pregnancy which led to permanent changes in metabolism and early sexual maturity in the offspring.

The rats were fed either a high-calorie or a calorie-restricted diet, replicating the previous effects. Offspring’s belonging from both the categories had low metabolic rates and reached puberty exclusively early than their peers whose mothers were fed a normal diet during pregnancy.

The changes are a part of an adaptive response by the offspring to fend off a challenging environment. It begins in the womb which is called ‘fast life history’. Here women who are living in deprivation reach sexual maturity quite early which results in them having their children at an early age.

According to Professor Sloboda, “In a place where there is high crime, fewer resources and poor socio-economic conditions, there may be a perception you won’t be around long and that unless you start to reproduce early you won’t have children.”

She is not alone in her conclusion. A study conducted by the notable British researcher David Nettle, found that a definite relationship exists when it comes to deprivation in early childhood and early first pregnancy. Elements such as residential disruption, separation from parents especially the mother, lack of parental involvement, short duration of breast feeding and low birth weight are the reasons which leads to early menstruation and teen pregnancy in women.

Studies suggest that a difficult early childhood easily accelerates reproduction in all mammals. Sloboda argues that this process starts much earlier in the womb reprogramming the offspring’s reproductive schedule and metabolic processes.

This equation amplifies depending on the quality fed to the offspring. During a research, a couple of malnourished pregnant rats gave birth to underweight breed that reached sexual maturity at an early stage. However, they reached puberty even earlier when they were fed a high-fat diet. They then gave birth to offspring which became over-weight later on and had irregular ovulation. The side effects continued from one generation to the next.

Sloboda says, “Pregnancy is the key vulnerable time point for these effects, diet during lactation mattered a lot less. And, not surprisingly, there are trans-generational effects related to the maternal diet. This is not unlike what we have seen in studies of humans.”

For study details: Click Here