Researchers from University of Utah have found that lack of proper nutrition in the womb may cause permanent genetic changes in the offspring.
In the study conducted using rats, the researchers found that fetuses receiving poor nutrition in the womb become genetically primed to be born into an environment lacking proper nutrition. As a result, the rats were likely to grow to smaller sizes than their normal counterparts.
They were at higher risk for health problems throughout their lives, such as diabetes, growth retardation, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and neurodevelopmental delays.
"Our study emphasizes that maternal-fetal health influences multiple healthcare issues across generations," said Robert Lane, professor of pediatric neonatology at the University of Utah, and one of the senior researchers involved in the study.
"To reduce adult diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, we need to understand how the maternal-fetal environment influences the health of offspring," he added.
During the study, the researchers included two groups of rats. The first group was normal. The second group had the delivery of nutrients from their mothers' placentas restricted in a way that is equivalent to preeclampsia.
The rats were examined right after birth and again at 21 days (21 days is essentially a preadolescent rat) to measure the amount of a protein, called IGF-1, that promotes normal development and growth in rats and humans.
They found that the lack of nutrients caused the gene responsible for IGF-1 to significantly reduce the amount of IGF-1 produced in the body before and after birth.
The findings are published online in The FASEB Journal.