NOV 09, 2016 6:57 PM PST

Poor Maternal Nutrition Causes Early Aging of the Infant Heart

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
Maternal nutrition is vital for the development of the fetus before birth and for the baby after birth. A new study shows that mothers who don’t get enough food during pregnancy put their children at risk for accelerated aging of the heart and other organs.
Offspring of undernourished mother has more spherical shaped heart than control. Credit: Dr. Peter Nathanielsz and Dr. Geoffrey Clarke
"Women's health during pregnancy is of fundamental importance to the lifetime health of their babies,” said Dr. Peter Nathanielsz, director of the Wyoming Pregnancy and Life Course Health Center at the University of Wyoming. “Society must pay attention to improving women's nutrition before and during pregnancy to prevent these adverse outcomes in babies."

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio and the University of Wyoming conducted a study on baboon mothers and their offspring, because the baboon heart most closely mirrors the development and aging of the human heart. They examined images from MRI scans to study cardiac development of baboon offspring whose mothers ate thirty percent less than “normal.”

The results showed that the offspring of food-deprived baboon mothers ate less and showed signs of impaired cardiac function. By the time these baboon offspring reached age five, which is equal to age twenty for humans, the structure and function of their hearts were severely weakened.

Nathanielsz and his colleagues compared the relationship between maternal nutrition and baby health outcomes to that of a poorly and cheaply made car and its ability to perform well and last over time: “The car won't travel as far, as fast, or for as long as its correctly built peers.”

The implications of weakened structure and function of baby hearts due to a reduction in the mother’s diet follow the offspring throughout their entire lives. These offspring should expect decreased quality of life, decreased exercise capability, and increased vulnerability to chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.

In the study, even just moderately reducing a mother baboon’s diet influenced the development of the offspring’s heart. Considering pregnant women across the globe come from developing countries where food and birth control are scarce, the implications for their offspring as a result of a malnourished pregnancy are extremely real.

The present study was published in The Journal of Physiology.

Source: The Physiological Society
About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog:
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