Hormone Replacement Therapy: What You Need To Know
April 27, 2019
A Revolutionary Approach To Erectile Dysfunction
December 4, 2017
10 Signs of High Blood Sugar
June 4, 2019
Genetic Changes Through Nutrition During Pregnancy
March 10, 2014
Dr. Ashley D. May, ND
Well, my wife is pregnant (again). Yup, number four is in the oven. We keep this up and our friends will be pitching in for a vasectomy. Along with the uncomfortable changes her body is experiencing, come my annoying speeches on the necessity of her hypervigilence in good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and supplements. As I write this I can feel her rolling her eyes.
Today, you get the rare privilege of hearing one of those annoying speeches. Here we go. This will be fun!
Did you know that certain nutrients can affect the way your genes are expressed? The relatively new science of nutrigenomics is teaching us all sorts of interesting things food can do in regards to our genetic expression.
Today we will discuss a subject called methylation. Methylation appears pretty simple at first glance; however, its ramifications are quite complex. Methylation is the addition of methyl groups (one carbon and three hydrogens) to genes. Think of them as little “tags” which ultimately work to silence genes. Certain nutrients, such as folic acid, contain these methyl groups and can “donate” them to this process. This is why the process is called “methylation” and why folic acid and other nutrients are called “methyl donors”.
We all know that exposure to certain things early in pregnancy can cause lifelong problems for our children. For instance, women who drink alcohol excessively during pregnancy can give birth to babies with fetal alcohol syndrome. These children can develop neurological and growth abnormalities that last a lifetime. The same is true, in varying degrees, about nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. Insufficient folic acid early in pregnancy increases the risk of having a baby with spina bifida (incomplete closure of the neural tube). However, new research demonstrates that even small deficiencies in methyl donors like folic acid and choline during pregnancy can cause certain areas of genes to be under-methylated for life. This under-methylation has been linked to increased risk of obesity, behavioral problems, diabetes, heart disease, and the list goes on and on.
Let’s look at a specific example:
Both mice and people have a gene titled “agouti”. In humans, overexpression (under-methylation) of this gene can lead to obesity. In mice, this leads to obesity and a yellow coat. When pregnant mice receive plenty of methyl donors (folic acid, etc.), they have mostly normal weight babies with brown coats. When the mice have insufficient methyl donors in their diet, most of their babies are fat with yellow-coats.
The same occurs when pregnant mice are exposed to toxins that can affect methylation. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a compound used to make polycarbonate plastic. BPA is used in everything from plastic water bottles to the lining of tin cans. When pregnant yellow mice are fed BPA, they have a higher incidence of fat babies with yellow coats. Fortunately, when BPA-exposed mothers are also fed methyl-rich foods, their babies are mostly healthy and brown.
The disturbing consequence is that the offspring exposed to BPA or insufficient methyl donors forever had yellow coats. Maybe obese mice get better with the addition of methyl donors, but the fact remains thier coats are yellow and will remain yellow. I think it's fair to postulate some of these changes, in people, may be permanent as well.
To be safe, make sure that you get plenty of folic acid (and other methyl donors) throughout pregnancy. These methyl donors can be found in abundance in uncooked, green leafy vegetables (Mmmmm…kale) and royal jelly (double Mmmmm). Most prenatal vitamins have a double dose of folic acid as well.
The bottom line is…what you do during pregnancy, both good and bad, can affect your children for the rest of their life.
I want to mention another important fact. Studies estimate that around 40% of the US population have one or multiple genetic mutations which can make it difficult to utilize folic acid (particularly the synthetic type found in most supplements). These people are at increased risk for under-methylation problems. The good news is that supplementing with the “active” form of folic acid, called 5-MTHF, can bypass this process and correct for the mutation. This is a tricky process, so please don’t take it on alone.
If you are interested in discovering whether you have this genetic mutation, or you need help correcting for it, there are several well qualified physicians at SageMED :-)