New research has found that a pregnant woman’s diet այլ other life factors can change the way her baby’s genes work in a way that can affect the baby’s cardiovascular health.
According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of all adults in the United States have some form of cardiovascular disease, including cardiovascular disease, heart failure, stroke, and high blood pressure. Early intervention can reduce the risk. But it is difficult to identify possible problems in children at an early stage who may develop cardiovascular disease later in life.
To meet this challenge, scientists are studying epigenetics, the study of changes in the environment and other effects of human genes, to better predict the further risk of heart disease.
One of the epigenetic mechanisms for altering the function of genes in the body without altering the gene itself is called DNA methylation. During this process, bundles of carbon և hydrogen atoms, known as methyl groups, are attached to a portion of the DNA strand. They act like a power switch to “turn on” or “turn off” the gene expression, making the genes more or less active in their assigned role. Maternal diet, smoking, stress, and other environmental factors can affect a baby’s DNA methylation even before birth.
Researchers from the University of Southampton in England in a new study published in the journal Hypertension AHA on Monday analyzed 470 blood samples from the portal of the participants of the Southampton Women’s Survey, which collect information about women’s health before, during and after pregnancy. They compared the DNA methylation patterns of samples with children or cardiovascular health measurements at 8 or 9 years of age. The researchers found 16 sites where methylation alters the expression of genes associated with aortic pulse rate. It is a means of tightening blood vessels that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Next, the researchers explored the possible links between maternal factors and “local methylation patterns.” Smoking during pregnancy, diet during pregnancy, weight before pregnancy changed these patterns. In particular, less consumption of oily fish during pregnancy, such as salmon-mackerel, increased the speed of the baby’s pulse.
“We were very interested to know that the intake of maternal oily fish in both early and late pregnancy is associated with epigenetic changes,” said Dr Mark Hanson, Professor at the British Cardiovascular Foundation, Director of the Institute for Accelerated Sciences. University of Southampton. “Oily fish are a source of healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are important for the development of cell membranes, including our blood vessels.”
The results show that the risk of cardiovascular disease begins very early, even before we are born, Hanson said. But since the epigenetic process seems to play a role, “there is an opportunity to change it in different ways,” he said. “And if we want our children to have the longest, healthiest lives, we need to help them develop a healthy egg from the moment they are literally conceived.”
The researchers say that because the study included only white children, more research is needed to confirm whether the findings apply to children of other races. But, Hanson said, “there is no reason to believe that these results will not extend to other groups.”
It is too early to draw firm conclusions about these epigenetic changes in “children’s true heart health,” said Dr. Enn Jennifer van Eyck, director of the Institute for Advanced Clinical Biosystems at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was not involved in the study.
“The most important finding is that they correlated specific epigenetic signatures with key health outcomes; correlation may be possible. But we have to be extremely careful that it is linked to the cause of the disease, “said Van Eyck, also of Erika J. Glazer in Women’s Heart Health at Cedars-Sinai.
The study hints at far-reaching cellular changes that could have long-term effects, he said, but there are still many steps to be taken to identify patterns of DNA methylation and how they actually affect health risks. Epigenetic changes can have both positive and negative effects or have narrow or wide-ranging effects, and scientists are just beginning to understand what they mean.
“This is the tip of the iceberg, but it’s an interesting discovery,” Van Eyck said.
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