New UK research has found that that diet and lifestyle during pregnancy is linked to modifications in neonates' DNA.
The findings, published in PLoS Medicine, suggest that pregnant women with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) could reduce their babies' health risks through improved diet and physical activity.
The researchers studied data from 557 women recruited from the UK Pregnancies Better Eating and Activity Trial (UPBEAT), a randomised controlled trial of a lifestyle intervention (low glycaemic index diet plus physical activity) in pregnant women with obesity (control arm, 294; intervention arm, 263), with 159 women having a diagnosis of GDM.
In this study, the researchers compared the level and pattern of DNA methylation in the cord blood of newborn infants from mothers who developed GDM with those that did not. They then looked at whether a dietary and physical activity intervention during pregnancy altered these modifications in infants born to mothers who developed GDM.
The results showed that GDM and high glucose levels in mothers were linked to changes in the level and pattern of functional modification to the infants DNA.
Moreover, they found that the dietary and exercise intervention significantly reduced these methylation changes in the infants associated with GDM in their mothers.
Prof Lucilla Poston, lead investigator of the UPBEAT trial at King’s College London, said: “We have known for some time that children of mothers who had gestational diabetes are a greater risk of obesity and poor control of glucose; this new research implies that epigenetic pathways could be involved.”
Prof Karen Lillycrop, professor of Epigenetics at the University of Southampton said: “These are very encouraging findings and further studies are now needed to establish whether reducing these epigenetic changes through a healthier lifestyle during pregnancy are accompanied by improved health outcomes for the children in later life.”