Many parents often think about how much influence they have on their kids. Children tend to imitate those they are exposed to the most. In almost all cases, they copy the behavior, language, demeanor, and other aspects of their parents. And even more likely, they will have similar diets to that of their parents.
But have we ever thought about how much effect our diet may have on our kids? Of course they would be eating similar foods as us since we’ll be the ones feeding them.
I’m talking about how kid’s health are dependent on the parents’ diet.
This may be like something simple to explain; if we eat junk and crappy foods, so will our kids, and in turn their health will be bad like ours. Or if we eat healthy foods and make wise diet choice, so will our kids and they will be healthy like us.
However, that’s just one piece of the puzzle. This topic goes beyond that line of thinking.
Studies have shown that our effect on our kid’s health starts WAY before he/she is even born.
That’s right, it’s not just about what we feed our kids after they’re born. What we feed them while they’re still in the womb have much more far-reaching effects on their long-term health and well-being.
The fact that pregnant mothers’ diets affects the health of their unborn child is no mystery. But these effects may have been much more important than we had previously thought.
Mommy’s Diet- Role On Genetics
The mothers’ diet does much more than just affect the physical health of her unborn child. It is a widely help assumption that the DNA and chromosomes and other genetic configurations of a child is pre-determined by the parents’ genetics, and that nothing can change that.
But what if I told you that a pregnant woman’s diet can alter the genetics of here unborn child?
What if the foods and drink that a soon-to-be mother consumes during her pregnancy plays a roles in how the genes are developed and how they impact the child’s life, well into adulthood?
Before we get into that, let’s look at what genetics has to do with an unborn child.
Genetics And Offspring
As far back as 1866, genetic traits have been studied and tested on different subjects. In the case of Gregor Mendel, he experimented on breeding pea plants and observing the traits that were passed on from the parent plants to the offspring. He experimented and observed for years. Here were a few things he found¹.
- The offspring received a single unit of physical factor for each trait from each parent
- Traits in offspring are NOT a blend of both parents’ traits
- The offspring will received both dominant and recessive form of the same trait
- The offspring will exhibit the dominant of the trait
- Sex cells (chromosomes) are received from each parent
- It’s a matter of chance as far as the gender of the offspring
A lot of advancements have been made since Mendel’s research and conclusions, but most of his determinations still hold true. One of the advancements we’ve made is figuring out that gene dominance does not solely dictate the outcome of inherited traits.
Co-dominance and incomplete dominance are just two examples of which where traits can blend or where different traits are all equally expressed in the offspring.
It also been discovered there’s a correlation between calorie consumption of pregnant mothers and the resultant gender of the baby. Although this hasn’t been proven, it’s showing that there may be more factors involved then just the genetics of the parents at play here.
So now that we understand how big of a role genetics play in the “making” of our offspring, let’s look into how the genetics can possibly contribute to negative health effects on our kids.
It’s common knowledge in the medical community that diseases like Type I diabetes, sickle cell, and other diseases are all hereditary. If a parent has one of these diseases, their kids will most likely carry the same disease as well.
Just recently, scientists and medical researchers at Queen Mary University of London in UK have found that a pregnant woman’s diet during her pregnancy period can alter the genetic makeup of the unborn child, permanently affecting the traits and attributes of the child.
Diseases like Type II diabetes and obesity have always thought to be contracted, not inherited. But this new research shows that these disease may have hereditary factors, one of which has to do with the diet of the pregnant mother.
The breakthrough of this research came from the studying the effects of the ribosomal DNA (rDNA)and its genetic variations on how the womb guides the attributes of the unborn child. This variation of the rDNA has never been considered to play a significant role in genetic makeup².
But there’s more to this study than just the rDNA.
Epigenetics- What Is It
Ever heard of epigenetics? They are simply factors outside of the normal genetic transfer process that influence the expression of genes by modifying the DNA.
Besides the parents’ genetics, this is the other big factor that plays a part in the resultant traits of the baby.
We all know that for the sake of the baby, pregnant mothers shouldn’t smoke or drink or be exposed to high-stress lifestyle (no one should be doing those things anyway, except for drinking in moderation). Disease like fetal alcohol syndrome and side effects like premature births and low-birth weight are common occurrences when pregnant mothers don’t abide by that advice.
These are all environmental factors that affect the in-utero environment, which affects the epigenetics profile. This then affects the expression of certain genes in the DNA sequence accordingly.
The important point here is that the sequence of the DNA is not changed. Whether the genes are expressed or not however, is what gets switched on or off.
The expression of certain genes, and the lack thereof, are what gives way to those side effects and diseases mentioned earlier when those environmental factors make the in-utero environment a poor one.
Case Studies of Different Diets
The same researcher conducted a study on pregnant mice and the effects of a low-protein diet at 8 % protein vs a normal protein diet at 20% protein.
Before the importance of the rDNA was discovered, this study would’ve turned up with nothing. But studying the rDNA data revealed something startling.
Without boring you with all the nerdspeak and geeky data, here’s a breakdown of what the study concluded.
- When protein intake was low, the cells interprets that as stress
- This stress caused protein production to be altered
- The rDNA expression was slowed, resulting in smaller offspring (up to 25%)
- The low protein offspring had one form of rDNA only- the form that resulted in the smallest beings
Of course, these are studies on mice and the exact results cannot be applied to humans. But it does show us that diets of pregnant mothers can have major effects on the genes of the unborn child.
The epigenetic effects as discuss actually occurs at an importance stage of growth for the offspring. These effects and the resultant characteristics stays with the offspring forever, into adulthood and for the remainder of his/her life.
Basically, the epigenetic effects (stress, diet, exercise) during the “creation” of the child can help make a healthy baby or a baby with a not-so-good start. This helps explain why diseases such as Type I diabetes and obesity can also be hereditary.
This should paint a clear picture that a pregnant mother’s diet has a bigger impact on the child’s health than the child’s own diet after its birth.
Diet After Birth- Not To Be Overshadowed
So if we have an unborn child, all we have to do is make sure the mother’s diet is clean until birth, then we can go back to eating whatever we feel like right?
First off, consuming whatever you feel like most likely includes processed foods for many of us. And if we recall from the grains article, it’s best to be a bit more meticulous with our food for our health, regardless if we’re pregnant or not.
But for those moms out there who changed up their diet and overall lifestyle for the better to provide a better start to life for your baby, good for you! I congratulate you in taking positive action.
But it does not end there.
A 2 year study was done on 698 parent-child pairs that studied the eating habits of each pair. The children were 6 to 12 years old and the study excluded any one with eating disorders or other metabolic disorders. The results were published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The researchers found that the caloric intake of the children matches very closely to that of the parent. After further refining of data and other factors, researchers concluded that the strongest predictor of the quality of a child’s diet is that of the parents’.
Diet Before Pregnancy- Does That Matter?
A study was published in the Cell Reports dated June 16, 2016 reporting the effects of diet of rodents prior to pregnancy on the baby rodent.
The results of this study concluded by saying that the obesity of the rodents can cause genetic abnormalities that are passed onto future bloodlines for at least 3 generations³. These effects are way more severe than once thought by the medical community.
Basically, the same process is happening as stated in the first study mentioned. The genes of the unborn child are not being expressed to exhibit healthy features when epigenetic factors like the mother’s diet is poor.
But what I’m saying now is that the diet of the mother before she was pregnant plays a role as well, and it can affect the next 3 generations.
Yes, the kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids could all be affect from the diet of a single female.
The study went on to feed the baby rodents a healthy, low sugar diet to keep insulin levels low. Even then, the baby rodents eventually developed insulin resistance. Their babies, and the babies after that all developed this problem, despite all of them being fed a healthy, low sugar diet.
This confirms that the mother’s diet before the birth of the baby has a much bigger influence on the baby’s long-term health than the baby’s own diet.
We can see that it’s not just the pregnancy period that matters. There’s a lot more going on that has an effect than just diet also. The resultant effects impact future generations of our bloodline, not just our immediate children.
And the second study showed that kids eat what their parents eat. If we take all 3 studies into account here, what we see is a grim picture for parents that don’t take care of their own diet.
Let me paint you a scenario to make the picture clear.
A woman with obesity is on a high carbohydrate, processed food diet. She is insulin resistant and has done nothing about it. She gets pregnant and continues the same lifestyle throughout her pregnancy. After giving birth, she raises her child to live a similar lifestyle and eat a similar diet that contributed to her obesity.
How will the child’s eventual health be?
It may not even wait til adulthood as diabetes and obesity are prevalent among kids already.
Common sense tells us that the child will end up like the mother because the mother is living that way so the child will be as well. But after seeing the results from those 3 studies, we know the reasons why and far more importantly, we know that the effects are much worse.
Even if the child turns their diet and lifestyle around completely, they genetic makeup was already set during their time in the womb. They are predisposed to those specific diseases that their mother had.
And the worst part about this is? They can’t do much to make it better for their own children.
This is how important this is. Our diets cannot be overlooked. And in this case, the importance of diets of pregnant mothers before, during and after birth cannot be overstated. But wait, the diet before, during, and after birth? That covers a pretty wide time period!
I hope you see where I’m going with this.
Making It Simple
To keep it simple, why not just adopt healthy eating habits?
Why go on “diets” or “a 90 day plan to torch the fat”, when all we’ll do is go right back to our original state afterwards? Why not just make everyday a day of healthy living? Why not give the Mediterranean Lifestyle a try?
“But it’s too hard!”, “I love junk food, I can’t give those up!”. Nothing worth it comes easy, and our eating habits are one of the, if not the biggest example of that.
No one said we have to give up having ice-cream or pizza forever. The occasional treat in moderation is actually beneficial for the mind. But by adopting a healthy eating lifestyle, we’ll be doing it effortlessly in no time because it’ll become habitual to us.
I hope I had shown another major impact that we have on our children. In this case, even before they are conceived, their health is already in our hands.
Essentially, we hold the fate of our future generations’ health in our own two hands. Us, and ONLY us, can make sure that the next generation comes into this world with the best health they can be in. The same goes for the generation after that, and after that, and so on.
I personally don’t have any children and I’m not sure if I’ll be having any anytime soon. But if I do, you can bet that I’ll be doing everything I can as a parent to raise a healthy child.
Will you be doing the same? Or have you been doing so already?
- “Genetics: The Study of Heredity.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, n.d. Web. 12 July 2016.
- “How Mom’s Diet during Pregnancy Could Affect Disease Inheritance.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, n.d. Web. 12 July 2016.