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Anisa Arsenault
Assistant Editor

Mom’s Pre-pregnancy Diet May Determine Baby’s Cancer Risk

Focused on maintaining a healthy pregnancy diet? Keep it up! But know that what you eat before you get pregnant matters too — affecting baby's cancer risk and vulnerability to infection.

That's the word from a new study published in Genome Biology. While a child's DNA is passed on from parents, environmental factors — including diet — can place a chemical mark on DNA, permanently altering its function. In other words, your genes may be perfectly suitable for a healthy baby. But your diet could screw things up.

To conduct the study, researchers looked at 120 pregnant women in Gambia, where diet changes drastically throughout the year. The rainy and dry seasons drastically affect the harvest and determine what people are eating. These women conceived at the peak of either the rainy or dry season.

"By studying babies conceived to mothers eating very different diets in the dry and rainy seasons in rural Gambia we could exploit a natural experiment," says lead author Dr. Matt Silver. "Our results show that the methylation marks that regulate how VTRNA2-1 is expressed are influenced by the season in which babies are conceived. Maternal nutrition is the most likely driver."

Wondering what the heck VTRNA2-1 is? It's a tumor suppressor gene which also affects how the body responds to viral infections. And it's especially sensitive to your diet. Even your preconception diet can determine whether or not you pass a fully-functioning version of this gene onto baby.

"Because this gene plays a key role in controlling response to viral infections and offering protection against certain cancers, the potential implications are enormous," says study author Andrew Prentice. "Our next step is to follow Gambian children to test exactly how epigenetic differences in the VTRNA2-1 gene affect gene expression and life-long health."

Wondering what you should be eating? Not only are these foods super healthy, they're the perfect fertility boosters.

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