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What Is Epigenetics? Can Your Diet Affect Your Child's Health Epigenetically?

By DEVIKA BANDYOPADHYA

The saying that "you are what you eat" has been scientifically proven to be true. And not just that, we are also possibly what our parents or our grandparents ate.

It has been determined that the diet that a woman follows during her pregnancy affects the health of the newborn. Also, the mother's lifestyle during pregnancy can affect the lifelong health of her child.

What Is Epigenetics?

The diet of an infant during his or her first couple of years has an impact on his or her lifelong health. The diet has a direct relation towards how disease prone a child would be in the years to come.

It has been found that if a child has a high intake of saturated fats, carbs, and red meats, it is likely to damage his or her nervous system through epigenetic mechanisms.

Research results show that the intrauterine environment has an effect on our bodies. A baby's epigenome is affected by the diet, physical activity, chemicals exposed to, and the living environment.

These effects can cause permanent changes to a baby's metabolism and physiology, resulting in an increased risk of disorders related to physical and mental abilities.

What Is Epigenetics?

Epigenetics refers to the study of how DNA expression can change without actually changing the DNA structure. The science behind epigenetics explains how what we eat and the environment that we live in can affect our genes, and eventually our overall health and also the health of our children and the generations to come.

When you are pregnant, what you eat affects the unborn child. Not just your diet, but also other factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, gestational diabetes mellitus, stress, etc. can have deep effects on the child developing within you.

The susceptibility to chronic diseases when a child would become an adult is dependent on the diet and lifestyle of the mother during her pregnancy. In short, epigenetics gives us the basics as to how early nutrition and the exposure to the environment can affect a person's health.

Understanding The Child's Health Via Epigenetics

Low and middle-income countries have observed an alarming increase in the rate of the number of cases of obesity. Not just the adults, but the children have seemed to be affected drastically as well. Plenty of factors related to a child's early life play a role in the development of childhood obesity. According to recent studies, epigenetics has been associated with obesity.

According to data provided by WHO in the year 2016, the number of children under five years of age who were found to be overweight was around 41 million, mostly in the African and Asian countries.

The first two years of a child's life is extremely critical considering the overall development. Several studies have proven the link between maternal lifestyles and a child's risk of obesity in the future.

The two most important factors playing a role here are a high Body Mass Index (BMI) prior to pregnancy and excess maternal gestational weight.

Over-nutrition during pregnancy is linked to a higher BMI during the adolescence years of the child. Other problems associated with this are the child, during his adult days, might develop problems such as high systolic blood pressure, high glucose levels, and insulin resistance.

A woman who has type 1 or type 2 diabetes prior to conceiving also puts her future baby at a risk of developing obesity, high insulin secretion, and low HDL cholesterol levels.

On the other hand, children born to undernourished mothers are exposed to being at a high risk of born preterm or with a low birth weight. Such babies are also exposed to chances of having hypertension, coronary heart disease, obesity, and a weak immune system. They are also susceptible to metabolic disorders such as hyperglycemia.

Epigenetic Modifications And Nutrition

The quality of the diet and the nutritional intake plays a major role in influencing a baby's epigenome. This is so because certain groups of nutrients affect gene-nutrient interaction by acting as sources of methyl groups or as co-enzymes for metabolism that actually regulate the methyl transfer. The methyl donors for epigenetic modifications are vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, riboflavin, choline, betaine, and methionine.

Studies have shown that a diet that has little methyl donors prior to or during the pregnancy period or just post-birth can result in some regions of the genome remaining under-methylated for the entire life with its negative consequences on the health.

A low-energy and protein-rich diet increases the chances of turning overweight during the later stages of one's life. However, on the contrary, a person who has a diet that is high in energy and protein shows signs of being able to prevent childhood obesity. The protective effect is the result of several nutrients acting together.

Epigenetics has been found to be a strong science that gives us the perspective to understand the origins and developmental factors behind the occurrence of diseases.

As it is seen that most of the illnesses have their origins related to the maternal environment, it becomes essential that a pregnant woman is given all the necessary resources so that she can have a healthy and successful pregnancy.

Pregnant women should follow a well-balanced diet. This should include enough protein, energy, and micronutrients.

The doctor or nutritionist should be consulted in order to understand the composition of a perfect and proper diet. This will ensure that as a mother you are able to provide a positive epigenetic modification to your child.

Maintaining a healthy environment around you will ensure that the future generations are also healthy.

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    Read more about: epigenetics diet health
    Story first published: Monday, June 25, 2018, 16:05 [IST]
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