For instance, research done at Duke University Medical Center in 2003 revealed that what a mother eats before and during pregnancy can actually switch certain genes on and off in her child. The study took a group of obese, yellow mice and fed them diets that are rich in the nutrients Vitamin B12, Folic Acid, Betaine, and Choline. Despite still carrying their mother’s genes for yellow fur and obesity, the baby mice born from this test were brown and remained svelte throughout their lives. This worked because the gene that controls both coat color and appetite is affected by methyl groups, of which Vitamin B12, folic acid, betaine, and choline are chock full.
Methyl Groups can switch genes on or off or, in some cases, just increase or decrease their impact. unfortunately, while this might be a great thing sometimes, like say if it cut out the gene that might give your kid diabetes, methyl groups might also turn off “good” genes, like the ones that inhibit certain types of cancers. Right now, nobody has a good enough idea of how methyl groups work to know how to target in on specific “bad” genes without impacting good ones. We do, however, have plenty of evidence that what pregnant moms eat affects gene expression and can have surprising consequences a long way into their children’s lives.
For instance, according to an October 2003 New York Times article on the subject, famines in Holland after World War II left many fetuses (and their mother) malnourished. Years. later Holland saw a big increase in the number of adults with schizophrenia, an increase directly linked to what nutrients those adults had (or, rather, hadn’t) gotten in the womb.