Key Message: What a woman eats prior to conception can affect her children’s genes 
Action Point:
Maintain a healthy diet and be mindful of your eating patterns well before conception

Women can often obsess about their diet during pregnancy to make sure they are doing everything right for their baby. However, the latest twist in this development has shaken the foundations of genetics.

It has been claimed by the Medical Research Council (MRC) that even before conception, a mother’s diet can have an impact on her unborn child’s immune system and pose a risk, on a long term basis, to life threatening diseases.

Basis of claim

After extensive testing on pregnant women from Gambia, the MRC came to this astonishing conclusion. As we all know a child inherits genes from his or her parents. The genes in discussion here are at the mercy of a process called DNA methylation, which is affected by epigenetics.

This affects how genes are either upregulated or downregulated and ultimately affects cell function. Research on this complex subject has pinpointed a tumor suppressor gene called VTRNA20-1, which is largely dependent on the diet of the female and vital in determining the future health of the child.

A compound called methyl group is added to the DNA, and this forces gene silencing and therefore limits their ability to express themselves properly.

How the tests were carried out

The researchers at the MRC in London required the services of pregnant African women from Gambia. Initially they were separated in two groups, as per the season they had conceived in. When divided in to the rainy season group and the dry season group, their blood was examined and comprehensively tested.

When they gave birth to their children, their blood was tested too and it was understood that babies conceived in the rainy season had a higher level of DNA methylation, cysteine and homocysteine. It was concluded that season was a chief factor in determining and manipulating the genetic structure of the infant.

What is the impact of this discovery?

The knowledge we have from this discovery is that there is an interplay between genes and the health of our mothers. What our mothers ate and the way they lived their lives has ultimately changed our gene expression, for better or worse.


1. Larsson, N (2015) “Mother’s diet before conception ‘can affect child’s lifelong risk of disease”. Global Development Professionals Network. The Guardian. Viewed online on 5th November 2014 at http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/jun/11/mothers-diet-before-conception-can-affect-childs-lifelong-risk-of-disease

2. Haskins, J (2014) “What a woman eats before conception affects her child’s DNA”. Healthily News. Viewed online on 5th November 2015 at http://www.healthline.com/health-news/mothers-diet-before-pregnancy-affects-babys-genes-043014

Sandra Di Giacomo Written by: Sandra Di Giacomo



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