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A recent animal study has suggested that mums who eat a high-fat, high-sugar diet may be putting their future generations at risk of metabolic problems, even if their offspring eat a healthy diet.
“Sadly nearly two-thirds of reproductive-age women in Australia and the United States are overweight or obese.”
While other studies have linked the state of a woman’s health in pregnancy to her child’s weight later in life. This new research is the first to indicate that if a woman is overweight or obese before and / or during pregnancy that it can cause genetic abnormalities, which are passed through the female bloodline to at least three generations, thus increasing their risk of obesity-related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
“Our findings indicate that a mother’s obesity can impair the health of later generations,” says senior authour Kelle H. Moley, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis. “This is particularly important because more than two-thirds of reproductive-age women in the United States are overweight or obese.”
The research shows that a mother’s obesity—and its associated metabolic problems—can be inherited through mitochondrial DNA present in the unfertilised egg or oocyte. The egg contains a powerful battery called the mitochondria, which has the ability to supply energy for metabolism and other biochemical processes. The mitochondria have their own sets of genes, inherited only from mothers, not fathers.
“Our data is the first to show that pregnant mice with metabolic syndrome can transmit dysfunctional mitochondria through the female bloodline to three generations,” Moley says. “Importantly, our study indicates oocytes—or mothers’ eggs—may carry information that programs mitochondrial dysfunction throughout the entire organism.”
The study that was published in the journal Cell Reports called for researchers to feed mice a high-fat and high-sugar diet comprising of about 60 percent fat and 20 percent sugar from six weeks prior to conception until weaning. “This mimics more of the Western diet,” Moley says. “Basically, it’s like eating fast food every day.”
Offspring then were fed a controlled diet of standard rodent chow, which is high in protein and low in fat and sugar. Despite the healthy diet, the pups, grand pups, and great-grand pups developed insulin resistance and other metabolic problems. Researchers found abnormal mitochondria in muscle and skeletal tissue of the mice.
“It’s important to note that in humans, in which the diets of children closely mirror those of their parents, the effects of maternal metabolic syndrome may be greater than in our mouse model,” Moley says.
More research is needed to determine if a consistent diet low in fat and sugar, as well as regular exercise, may reverse these genetic metabolic abnormalities.
“In any case, eating nutrient rich foods is critical,” Moley says. “Over the decades, our diets have worsened, in large part due to processed foods and fast foods. We’re seeing the effects in the current obesity crisis. Research, including this study, points to poor maternal nutrition and a predisposition to obesity.”
The National Institutes of Health supported the study.