Mental health, and its origins in the womb
It’s no secret that a mother’s diet during pregnancy is hugely important for the wellbeing of her child. Diet isn’t just about how physically robust the child is at birth, however. A recent study showed how diet impacts children at a genetic level in the womb, with mental and physical effects that last a lifetime. This is epigenetics – the effect of environment on our genes.
“There are around 100 imprinted genes, about 0.4% of the total in the genome, and most appear to have their greatest impact during pregnancy”, said research leader Dr Mathew Van de Pette. “The pattern by which imprinted genes are ‘set’ in early life plays an important part in the development of healthy offspring. If a gene is ‘miss-set’ then problems may occur later”. Read more here.
Another study in the area of epigenetics has shown how bone health relies on genes being switched on in the womb, powered by certain nutrients, including vitamin D.
It’s encouraging, then, to see countries taking a more hands-on approach to educating Moms-to-be – something we’re passionate about here at The Mother and Child Foundation. The latest good news came from Bangladesh this week, with their Alive & Thrive program. It’s based on the World Health Organisation’s 2016 Guidelines on Antenatal Care (ANC).
The program focuses on the “window of opportunity” from pregnancy to the child’s second birthday. Extending that window to include the pre-conception period would help further, as would adding education on omega-3 intake – no huge problem in a local diet that includes lots of seafood. As it is, the program focuses on other key areas such as dietary diversity, iron, folic acid and calcium supplementation, and the importance of breastfeeding.
Mental health, and its ongoing maintenance into old age
Research at the University of Illinois has added to the ever-mounting evidence of the benefits of the correct balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Getting it right can promote healthy brain aging and enhance cognition. NewsMax was one of several publications to report on the research.
Parallel research at The University of Texas at San Antonio suggested that omega-3 supplementation increases blood flow in the brain and helps prevent Alzheimer’s. “This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia”, commented the head researcher.
Yet another study demonstrated how dietary interventions with omega-3, prebiotics and other nutrients can help improve motor functions and cognition after the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
All good news!