Research by scientists at The University of Nottingham suggests adult health-related disorders, particularly in males, could originate from the events that take place at the point of our conception.
Experts in the Schools of Biosciences and Human Development say mothers-to-be should make sure they are getting the right amount of Vitamin B12 and Folate before they even attempt to start a family.
It is well known that B vitamins are essential for healthy fetal development. Now, for the first time, scientists are reporting that modest reductions can lead to subtle modifications to the DNA.
Researchers have shown that the adult offspring of sheep deprived of B vitamins prior to conception were fatter, showed insulin resistance and had higher blood pressure than animals whose mothers ate a normal diet. This was particularly marked in the adult male offspring.
Working in close collaboration with scientists from the Rowett Institute and SAC in Aberdeen, Dr Kevin Sinclair and colleagues at The University of Nottingham have shown that male offspring of B-deprived mothers were 25 per cent fatter and had significantly higher blood pressure than offspring of sheep given a healthy diet.
Dr Sinclair said: “There is no effect on fertility, or birth weight and young offspring appear quite normal. However, sweeping changes to our DNA take place during conception and we now realise that this period is particularly vulnerable to environmental influences that can affect development and lead to chemical modifications that can make permanent alterations to gene expression.
“If maternal diet is not properly balanced it can upset these processes during conception — it is a vulnerable period in mammalian development.”
The researchers are interested in B Vitamins as they are involved in specific pathways which can influence chemical changes to DNA at the time of conception. These vitamins are found in natural foods such as red meat and green, leafy vegetables. As yet they don’t understand why males are particularly affected by Vitamin B deficiencies.
The study received £556,000 in funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (USA) and their findings have been published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
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