A new study from the King’s College in London and the University of Bristol reinforces how important it is for women to follow a healthy diet while they are pregnant.
Researchers have found that pregnant women who eat foods that are high in fat and sugar content are more likely to have a child that develops attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Additionally, the researchers say that diet during pregnancy may also predict the development of conduct problems (i.e. lying and fighting) during childhood. They believe that their findings could be helpful in supporting pregnant women to make healthy choices.
“These results suggest that promoting a healthy prenatal diet may ultimately lower ADHD symptoms and conduct problems of children. This is encouraging given that nutritional and epigenetic risk factors can be altered,” said Dr. Edward Barker.
Importance of prenatal nutrition
The researchers came to their conclusions after examining the behaviors of 164 children and the diets of their mothers during pregnancy; 83 of these children displayed early-onset conduct problems and 81 had low levels of conduct problems.
Specifically, the researchers looked at how each mother’s nutritional choices affected DNA methylation of a gene called IGF2. IGF2 plays a major role in fetal brain development and is believed to be a factor in the development of ADHD.
The researchers found that mothers who had poor prenatal nutrition had higher IGF2 methylation when compared to mothers who practiced better nutritional habits. The researchers posit that eating foods that are high in sugar and fat content correlate with higher IGF2 methylation, which could lead to ADHD and future behavioral problems.
“Our finding that poor prenatal nutrition was associated with higher IGF2 methylation highlights the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy,” said Barker.
Determining optimal nutrition
Barker and his colleagues believe that their findings are important, but they do not believe that their work is done yet. Next, they hope to determine which nutritional steps should be taken by expecting mothers to reduce the risk of ADHD and behavioral problems.
“We now need to examine more specific types of nutrition. For example, the types of fats such as omega 3 fatty acids, from fish, walnuts and chicken are extremely important for neural development. . . We already know that nutritional supplements for children can lead to lower ADHD and conduct problems, so it will be important for future research to examine the role of epigenetic changes in this process,” said Barker.