Unhealthy diet in pregnancy found to be a cause of conduct disorder in children

Emobileclinic Researchers Corner

The importance of nutrition during pregnancy cannot to be underestimated. Pregnant woman must however scrutinize the types of diet she eats to avoid some effect on the unborn child. According to a new research published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, consumption of foods with high fat and high sugar may lead to symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity known as conduct disorder in early life.

Conduct disorder is defined as a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in children and adolescents in which the rights of others or basic social rules are violated according to the Mental American Health. It manifests in aggressive acts, such as threatening or harming other people or animals, and non-aggressive behavior like causing deliberate damage to the property of others.

The condition is also characterized with deceitful behavior like lying, theft and skipping school as well as violations of rules. The team notes that conduct disorder often arises together with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and was of the opinion that this was not just an environmental factor but routed congenitally. Earlier studies have linked an unhealthy diet in early life with both conduct disorder and ADHD, which researchers speculate is caused by DNA methylation of the insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) gene.

DNA methylation is an epigenetic process by which methyl groups are added to DNA, altering gene function. IGF2 is involved in fetal development, as well as the development of brain areas involved in ADHD. Thus, the team hypothesized that an unhealthy diet during pregnancy might affect this gene in a way that puts offspring at risk for behavioral problems.

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The team analyzed data of 164 children and their mothers who were part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children to establish this link. Out of these children, 83 had early-onset conduct disorder, while 81 had low levels of conduct problems. The researchers also assessed mothers’ diets during pregnancy, as well as blood samples from their children at birth and ages 7 in order to ascertain whether prenatal diet affects IGF2.

Among both groups of children, those whose mothers had a diet high in fat and sugar during pregnancy showed higher DNA methylation of IGF2 at birth, compared with children whose mothers had a healthy diet in pregnancy. Significantly, higher IGF2 methylation at birth among children with early onset conduct disorder was linked to more symptoms of ADHD between the ages of 7-13 years. Dr. Barker remarks that the findings highlight the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy.

These results pointed to the fact the promotion of a healthy prenatal diet may ultimately lower ADHD symptoms and conduct problems in children.
The focus of the team now has shifted to investigate how specific nutrition groups affect neural development, in order to better pinpoint the best foods for expectant mothers to consume to lower their offspring’s risk of ADHD.

Barker confirms that they already know that nutritional supplements for children can lead to lower ADHD and conduct problems, so it will be important for future research to examine the role of epigenetic changes in this process.

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