Mother’s Overall Diet Affects Fetus Health
October 4, 2011

Mother’s Overall Diet Affects Fetus Health

According to a new study, available online by the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers found that overall quality of diet had a greater impact on fetus health than single nutrient supplementation.

The authors of the study note that folic acid supplementation and food fortification has helped in reducing or preventing neural tube defects, but it does not prevent all birth defects. The authors write, “Nutrition research on birth defects has tended to focus on one nutrient (or nutritional factor) at a time. However, the reality of nutrition is much more complex.”

According to the study, the data was collected in 10 states from pregnant women with estimated due dates from October 1997 through December 2005. The analysis included 936 cases with neural tube defects, 2,475 with orofacial clefts, and 6,147 controls (no birth defects). The mothers responded to a questionnaire asking about their food intake over the course of their pregnancies. The researchers developed two diet quality indices that focused on overall diet quality based on the Mediterranean Diet (Mediterranean Diet Score or MDS) and the US Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid (Diet Quality Index or DQI).

The women who scored higher on the indices were calculated to have a higher quality diet and showed fewer birth defects. These women had 24 to 34 percent protection against giving birth to a child with cleft lip. The higher quality diet was also protective against spina bifida and cleft palate.

Researchers are puzzled as to why the overall diet has a greater effect than single nutrient supplementation. But they think the combined nutrients work together. They also think that eating higher quality foods leaves less room for junk foods in the diet.

Dr. Suzan Carmichael from Stanford University Medical Center and first author of the study said: “We may be capturing qualities of these foods that are beneficial to health but haven´t been measured in isolation. In our bodies, nutrients interact. They don´t just act in isolation; they depend on each other. So, for instance, eating fruits and vegetables that deliver several nutrients simultaneously may have greater benefits than consuming more of a single nutrient.”


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