Pregnancy Diet May Affect Baby's Lifespan

50% Increase in Lifespan Seen With Healthy Diet Over Fat, Sugar Diet

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 29, 2004 -- Eating a healthy diet during pregnancy -- rather than one full of fat and sugar -- can increase the baby's lifespan by 50% or more, a new study shows.

That finding comes from studies involving mice. While by no means conclusive, the study draws attention to the need for greater study of pregnancy diets.

"There is, after all, a significant difference between living to be 50 years old and reaching the age of 75," writes researcher Susan E. Ozanne, a clinical biochemist with the University of Cambridge in Great Britain.

Her paper appears in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Mother's Nutrition and Her Baby

Poor fetal growth has been linked with long-term health problems in adulthood, writes Ozanne. But can a mother's pregnancy diet affect her child's lifespan? That's what Ozanne sought to discover.

In her experiments, she fed pregnant mice either a low-protein diet to cause slow fetal growth or a normal diet. At birth, the babies were swapped. Normally fed mothers nursed babies born to undernourished mice -- to help them catch-up on their growth -- and undernourished mothers nursed normally nourished babies -- to minimize their growth.

At three weeks old, half the babies from each litter were then put on a normal diet. The other half was fed an "all-you-can-eat" high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie diet that would fatten them up quickly.

The researchers found that the mother's diet during pregnancy was more important for lifespan than the babies' diet after birth.

Mice born to undernourished mothers and fed a normal diet after birth developed normally but died at a younger age. In addition, mice born to mothers on a healthy diet but then breastfed by malnourished mothers lived longer -- whether the babies ate a normal or unhealthy diet after birth.

Mice born to mothers on a healthy diet had a 57% increase in their lifespan compared with mice from underfed mothers.

The study shows minor changes in a mother's pregnancy diet can increase her baby's life expectancy by more than 50%, writes Ozanne.

SOURCE: Ozanne, S. Nature, Jan. 29, 2004; vol 427: pp 411-412.