The study's lead author, Dr. David Martin, and colleagues split a group of genetically identical pregnant mice into two groups. The first group was fed a standard laboratory diet, while the second group was fed an identical diet supplemented with folate, choline, zinc and vitamin B12.
When the mice in both groups gave birth, the offspring were examined for coat color, and the female babies from both groups were then mated and fed a diet without added supplements. When the offspring gave birth, the researchers found that the original mice's supplemental diet affected the genetic coat color of not only the children, but also the grandchildren.
"The idea that some sort of toxin or nutrition could affect not just individuals but future generations is very powerful," Martin said.
According to Kenneth Beckman, an assistant scientist at Children's Oakland, the design of the study allowed the researchers to eliminate most uncontrolled behavior in the mice, which led to a more conclusive result.
The research -- funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia -- is part of a growing field of research called epigenetics, which examines the long-term genetic effects of the environment.
Previous studies in epigenetics have shown that a pregnant woman's environment -- including diet and nutritional supplementation -- can influence future generations' risks of breast cancer, obesity and heart disease.
According to holistic health author Mike Adams, Martin's research indicates that women who take nutritional supplements and eat superfoods positively influence the health of a number of future generations.
"This message is urgent," Adams said. "If we do not make significant efforts to boost the nutrition and dietary habits of young couples who are about to conceive a child, we are creating a multi-generational health burden that will impact individuals, families and entire nations for a hundred years or more."