Scientist have found that poor nutrition early in pregnancy can cause a lifetime of damage to an unborn baby's brain.
The research - conducted on baboons - found that restricting the food given to the pregnant females had a vast impact on the brain development of their babies.
The researchers studied two groups of pregnant baboons, allowing one group to eat as much as they liked, whilst restricting the others. They found that the brain cells did not divide as they should, and the connections between the neurons were not made in the group whose intake was rationed.
Scientist Dr Laura Cox said: 'We found dysregulation of hundreds of genes, many of which are known to be key regulators in cell growth and development, indicating that nutrition plays a major role during foetal development by regulating basic cellular machinery.'
It is already established that severe inadequate nutrition - for instance during famines - affects foetal brain development.
The co-author of the study, Dr Thomas McDonald from the University of Texas, said: 'This study is a further demonstration of the importance of good maternal health and diet. It supports the view that poor diets in pregnancy can alter development of foetal organs, in this case the brain, in ways that will have lifetime effects on offspring, potentially lowering IQ and predisposing to behavioural problems.'
The Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Research at the University of Texas' Health Science Center School of Medicine supported the findings. It's spokesman Dr Peter Nathanielsz said early pregnancy was a 'critical time window' and that foetal nutrient deficiency was especially a concern for both teenage and older mums.
Were you careful to eat heathily and not restricting your diet during your pregnancy?
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