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Originally published October 29 2010

Mother's diet raises risk of birth defects

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Women who eat a high fat diet may increase their unborn children's risk of birth defects, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics at Oxford University.

"We know that poor diet and defective genes can both affect development, but here we have seen the two combine to cause a much greater risk of developing health problems and more severe problems," lead researcher Jamie Bentham said. "We are excited by this as it suggests that congenital heart defects may be preventable by measures such as altering maternal diet."

Researchers have known for some time that the absence of a gene known as Cited2 can lead to heart defects in humans and mice, including a severe condition in which the heart's normal asymmetry is malformed (atrial isomerism). Other studies have linked congenital heart defects to an overweight mother or a mother suffering from diabetes.

In the current study, researchers sought to determine whether there might be some connection between these disparate risk factors.

The scientists fed either a normal or high-fat diet before and during pregnancy to both normal mice and mice who were deficient in Cited2. The fetal mice were then monitored via magnetic resonance imaging throughout gestation.

The risk of atrial isomerism increased more than 100 percent in the deficient mice in the high-fat group, compared with deficient mice in the normal diet group. The risk of cleft palate increased more than 600 percent. In contrast, a high-fat diet had no effect on the risk of these conditions in genetically normal mice.

"These are very important findings as we have been able to show for the first time that gene-environment interactions can affect development of the embryo in the womb," Bentham said.

According to Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation, which partially funded the study, the findings provide yet another reason for pregnant women to eat a healthy diet.

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