This week a news headline caught my eye: “Mother’s Diet Affects Silencing of Her Child’s Genes”. The research, conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, took place in Gambia and showed a clear link between a mother’s diet before she becomes pregnant and the life-long health of her child.
I’m always excited when I see modern research that underscores knowledge promoted by Ayurveda. For over 20 years The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa and Treatment Center has been offering a Pre-Conception Program. This program is recommended to begin eight-weeks before parents try to conceive a child. The program begins with Panchakarma, the traditional Ayurveda detoxification and purification treatments, to remove harmful toxins and promote balance in the physiology of the parents. The parents then follow a specific diet, lifestyle changes and herbal supplements recommended by an Ayurveda expert. By the time the child is conceived, an ideal environment has been created from which to create the child and in which to nurture its development.
To me the idea always seemed driven by common sense as much the data on levels of environmental toxins found in wombs and research on specific vitamins and nutrients that support fertility and child development. (See the blog post “Optimizing Fertility with Ayurveda“). But this new research took things to the level of “epigenetics”.
Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene activity that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence. Without altering the underlying DNA sequence, genes can actually be turned off. These epigenetic changes may last through cell divisions for the duration of the cell’s life, and may also last for multiple generations. The press release from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine explained, “While a child’s genes are inherited directly from their parents, how these genes are expressed is controlled through ‘epigenetic’ modifications to the DNA. One such modification involves tagging gene regions with chemical compounds called methyl groups, which results in silencing the genes. The addition of these compounds requires key nutrients including foliate, vitamins B2, B6 and B12, choline and methionine.”
This means that what we eat and how we live our lives can turn off or turn on the genes we are born with. And it can also turn off the genes that we pass on to our children.
One interesting outcome of the study was that what the mother ate before pregnancy was more important than what was eaten while carrying the child. Researcher Andrew Prentice, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “The key message is that a mother’s nutrition before she becomes pregnant is super-critical…There is a lot going on before the moment of conception.”
He also noted that pre-pregnancy diet has been linked to the chemistry of genes involved in obesity, cancer and the immune system and that these early days could shape a child’s chances of everything from developing diabetes in their 40s and 50s to having a heart attack in old age.
This study only focused on the diet of the mother, prior to conception. Ayurveda recommends that both the mother and the father attend to their diet and to the balance of their physiology before trying to conceive a child. Since 50% of the child’s DNA comes from the father, it seems obvious that that too plays an important role in determining the future health of a child.
For more information on the Pre-Conception Program at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa go to:
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