A new study published online in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) claims that what a mother-to-be eats during her pregnancy can cause both obesity and sleep problems for her child.
According to a release from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where the research was conducted, what the mother eats can alter the function of genes (epigenetic changes) that regulate circadian rhythm. In the report, pregnant primate females consuming a high-fat diet altered the function of fetal genes that regulate circadian rhythm (including appetite and food intake) during development. The offspring also had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
To make this discovery, researchers studied three groups of Japanese macaque primates. One group was fed a 12 percent fat diet (the control group). The second group was fed a 35 percent fat or high-fat diet and the third group was fed the high-fat diet for up to five years and then switched back to the control diet. Each group maintained their specific diet prior to conception and throughout pregnancy. Offspring from the high-fat group developed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; experienced changes in histones (the core set of proteins which DNA wrap around), and had altered metabolic profiles and circadian rhythms. Results also showed that the genes in the fetal liver, which are responsible for orchestrating circadian rhythms with appetite and food intake, are altered in offspring from the mothers on the high-fat diet. Specifically, one of these genes, called Npas2, is a key regulator of the circadian system and is itself regulated by changes in the fetal histone code. Scientists found that improving the diet, either for the pregnant or breastfeeding mother, or for the infant after birth, helps to partially restore the circadian machinery back to normal, possibly lessening the risk of childhood diseases related to obesity.
“We’ve recently published a number of studies in the FASEB Journal showing that what a mother eats affects the weight of her children for their entire lives,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. “Now, we know why, and what a wake-up call for pregnant women! The mother’s diet during pregnancy affects their children’s sleep machinery via genetic machinery that controls the sleep cycle. Children are literally forced to sleep in the proverbial bed their mothers have made.”