Women waiting to get their healthy diet on track until they’ve seen that blue line on the pregnancy stick or until they’ve given birth should think again. According to a new study, women who would like to conceive should eat a healthy diet even before their little one is in the womb — because even the foods they eat preconception can have a long-term effect on their child’s DNA. By examining the vast seasonal differences in diets of women during the rainy and dry seasons in Gambia, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that diet during the first few days of baby’s development can play a role in baby’s genetics.
The study examined a process called methylation (which is basically like an “off” switch for genes to be expressed) to determine the effects of diet on DNA. The researchers then linked this process with when the women conceived (either during the peak of the rainy season or during the peak of dry harvest season). Women who conceived during the rainy season in Gambia, when more nutrient-rich veggies were available, despite having a lower caloric intake, showed higher rates of methylation. Women with lower levels of certain B vitamins, which are yet to be specifically determined, had less methylation. BMI also had an effect on the methylation process, with women with higher BMI rates showing less methylation. Women in Gambia often lose weight during the rainy season due to an increased farming work load and less food availability.
Although similar patterns have been studied and shown to have an effect on DNA in mice for years, this experiment marks the first in humans — so stay tuned for more studies like this that show the specific effects of pre- and early conception diet on DNA. In the meantime, it appears there is no reason to wait to start adding more fruits, veggies, and healthy foods to your diet!