A new study says that a pregnant mother's diet could be inadvertently putting the health of her offspring at risk through her genes.
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford found that mothers who eat a high fat diet before and through pregnancy influence the type or severity of birth defect.
In a study conducted on mice, the team found that high fat diet and deficiency of Cited2 (A gene that helps prevent serious heart defects) combined, increased the risk of congenital heart defects.
"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," says Dr Jamie Bentham, first author of the study.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director of the BHF, which part-funded the study, said, "This research shows that diet during pregnancy can directly affect which genes get switched on in unborn offspring. The study was with mice, but a similar link may exist in humans, leading to some cases of congenital heart disease."
The study is published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.