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Link between unhealthy pregnancy diet and ADHD in children

Friday 2nd September 2016
Scientists have identified a link between an unhealthy diet during pregnancy and ADHD in childhood. Image: a_namenko via iStock
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Dieticians treating expectant mothers are encouraged to advise them to follow a healthy diet for many reasons, with new research revealing eating healthily during pregnancy may help to prevent the development of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in young children.

A study carried out by doctors at the University of Bristol and King's College London led to the discovery that women who ate unhealthily while pregnant were more likely to give birth to children who would be diagnosed with ADHD than their healthy-eating counterparts.

The research focused on the gene IGF2, which is linked to foetal development, as well as ADHD, looking at how pregnant women's diet affected levels of this biomarker in the DNA.

Previous research has also linked IGF2 to the children of women who were exposed to famine during the Second World War, demonstrating that lack of healthy diet may lead to children being born with higher levels of this gene, and ADHD.

It was found that women who consumed greater amounts of sugar, confectionery, saturated fats and processed food items were significantly more likely to pass on higher levels of the IGF2 gene to their children, potentially making them more vulnerable to the development of behavioural problems.

ADHD symptoms tended to appear most strongly in children between the ages of seven and 13, highlighting the importance of women following a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy to not only protect their newborns' health, but to safeguard their wellbeing into their teenage years.

Dr Edward Baker of King's College London, commented: "Our finding that poor prenatal nutrition was associated with higher IGF2 methylation highlights the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy.

"These results suggest that promoting a healthy prenatal diet may ultimately lower ADHD symptoms and conduct problems in children. This is encouraging given that nutritional and epigenetic risk factors can be altered."

Written by Martin Lambert

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