Does a woman's high-fat diet increase her baby's risk for heart disease?

September 1, 2010

Mothers who eat a high-fat diet before and during pregnancy may be putting their offspring at higher risk for certain birth defects, according to research.

Mothers who eat a high-fat diet before and during pregnancy may be putting their offspring at greater risk for certain birth defects, according to British researchers.

The researchers surmised that a pregnant woman's diet may interact with the genes that her unborn baby inherits, thereby influencing the type and/or severity of birth defects such as congenital heart disease and cleft palate. In the study, one group of mice was fed a high-fat diet before and during pregnancy, and a second group was fed a well-balanced diet. Using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers then monitored the development of the offspring.

Among offspring mice deficient in the gene Cited2 (deficiency of which is known to predispose one to the development of congenital heart disease), the risk for atrial isomerism, a serious heart defect involving left-right asymmetry of the heart, more than doubled, and the risk for cleft palate increased more than 7 times in those mice from mothers fed a high-fat diet compared with those born to mice fed a well-balanced diet.

Bentham J, Michell AC, Lockstone H, et al. Maternal high-fat diet interacts with embryonic Cited2 genotype to reduce Pitx2c expression and enhance penetrance of left–right patterning defects. Hum Mol Genet. 2010. Epub ahead of print.