Children born to mothers who go hungry during early pregnancy are at increased risk of heart disease as adults, finds a study in Heart.
The evidence comes from the Dutch famine of 1944-45, which occurred when the Allied forces failed to take hold of the bridge spanning the Rhine at Arnhem. At the height of the famine, adults in Amsterdam were on rations as low as 400 kilocalories a day.
The researchers examined over 700 fifty year olds who had been born between November 1943 and February 1947 in a university hospital in Amsterdam. They also looked back at the birth records.
Twenty-four -- just over 3 per cent -- had coronary heart disease. At birth they had tended to weigh below average, to have had smaller head size, and to have had lighter mothers than those people without heart disease. As adults they also had higher blood pressure, weighed more, and a higher adverse cholesterol profile.
But people whose mothers starved during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy were three times as likely to have heart disease as those who had not been conceived during the famine. This effect was not seen for those whose mothers were starved during mid or late pregnancy.
The authors conclude that not only does an "adverse fetal environment contribute to several aspects of cardiovascular risk in adult life, but that the effects depend on its timing during gestation."
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