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Epigenetic Changes In Twins And Babies Of Dieting Mothers Increase Obesity, Diabetes Risk

April 2, 2012

New research in the FASEB Journal suggests that epigenetic changes in gene structure lead to higher incidents of obesity and diabetes for mothers with poor nutrition at the time of conception

If you’re expecting, this might make you feel a little better about reaching for that pint of ice cream: New research published online in the FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org) suggests that twins, and babies of mothers who diet around the time of conception and in early pregnancy, may have an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes throughout their lives. This study provides exciting insights into how behavior can lead to epigenetic changes in offspring related to obesity and disease.

“This study may provide a new understanding of why twins can develop diabetes,” said Anne White, Ph.D., study author from the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester in Manchester, UK. “It also suggests that dieting around the time a baby is conceived may increase the chance of the child becoming obese later in life.”

To make this discovery, White and colleagues conducted experiments involving sheep to investigate twin pregnancies and the effects of altering nutrition around the time of conception and early pregnancy. Specifically, scientists examined the brain tissue of fetal sheep before birth and found that there were changes in the genes that control food intake and glucose levels that may lead to obesity and diabetes. These findings are unique because the differences found in the genes are not inherited changes in the DNA sequence, but rather, epigenetic changes with alterations in the structure of the DNA and its associated proteins, histones, which affects the way that genes can behave in later life.

“This study shows that expecting mothers have to walk a really fine line when it comes to diet and nutrition,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. “It also shows that epigenetics is the ‘new genetics’: both our DNA and the histones in which it is wrapped are susceptible to binge eating and dieting–we are what our mothers ate.”

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