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15th Jun 2015

Mother’s diet at conception ‘can affect baby’s long-term health’

Katie Mythen-Lynch

If you’re waiting until you conceive to make some long overdue improvements to your diet, this might encourage you to start a little earlier; new research shows that a woman’s diet at the time of conception can affect their child’s health in the future.

Scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine believe they have found the “first concrete evidence” to suggest that a poor diet around the time of conception could permanently alter a tumour-suppressing gene called VTRNA20-1, leading to reduced immunity and an increased risk of cancer.

According to study author Professor Andrew Prentice, “In this particular example, the gene involved is really crucial, it lies at the centre of the immune system so it affects our susceptibility to viral infection. At the very beginning of fetal growth, the way it is labelled is going to affect the baby’s health for the rest of its life.

“If a mother’s diet is poor then it causes a whole lot of damage to the genome which has a shotgun effect, so a baby might have possible adverse outcomes. This general phenomenon might explain preterm births, problems in pregnancy, brain defects, or why some babies are born too small.”