New research suggests that babies born to mothers who are fed a diet supplemented with B vitamins, particularly folate, are less likely to develop colorectal cancer.
Using a mouse model of naturally occurring colorectal cancer, scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University examined whether a mothers' B vitamin intake impacts her offspring's cancer risk.
Mothers were fed diets containing supplemental, adequate or mildly deficient quantities of vitamins B2, B6, B12 and folate prior to conception through weaning after which all of the offspring received the same adequate diet.
"We saw, by far, the fewest intestinal tumors in the offspring of mothers consuming the supplemented diet," said Jimmy Crott, senior author and a scientist in the Vitamins and Carcinogenesis Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA.
Crott and colleagues associated the tumor suppression seen in the offspring of supplemented mothers with a protection against disruptions to the Wnt signaling pathway, a network of genes commonly altered in colorectal cancer.
"The strongest expression of tumor-suppressing genes in the Wnt pathway was in the offspring of supplemented mothers and the weakest was in the offspring of the mildly deficient mothers," said first author Eric Ciappio.
Crott adds, "Aside from the known protective effect of maternal folate against neural tube defects such as spina bifida, our results suggest that mothers consuming supplemental quantities of these B vitamins may also be protecting her children against colorectal cancer."
The study was recently published in the journal Gut.