Prenatal Diets Could Affect ADHD Development in Offspring

“Our finding that poor prenatal nutrition was associated with higher IGF2 methylation highlights the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy,” said a doctor who contributed to the report.

An unhealthy diet during pregnancy could be linked to the offspring’s development of symptoms consistent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to findings published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Researchers from King’s College London observed 164 children in order to investigate the degree to which prenatal high fat and high sugar diets might relate to ADHD symptoms. There were 83 children with early onset persistent (EOP) symptoms and 81 children with conduct problems (CP). EOP and CP symptoms were defined as behaviors such as lying and fighting. The investigators examined the early life diet and its relation to DNA methylation of the insulin like growth factor 2 gene called IGF2 because of its involvement in fetal and neural development. DNA methylation of IGF2 had also been found in children whose mothers were exposed to famine in the Netherlands during World War II, a press release explained.

The investigators learned that high fat and high sugar diets of mothers contributed to higher IGF2 methylation in children with EOP and CP symptoms for ADHD. The mothers had poor prenatal nutrition which included processed foods and confectionary. The IGF2 methylation was higher in children with ADHD between the ages of 7 and 13 years of age, but only for children who demonstrated EOP symptoms, the researchers said.

“Our finding that poor prenatal nutrition was associated with higher IGF2 methylation highlights the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy,” said Dr. Edward Barker, who contributed to the report. “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. We now need to examine more specific types of nutrition. For example, the types of fats such as omega 3 fatty acids, from fish, walnuts and chicken are extremely important for neural development. We already know that nutritional supplements for children can lead to lower ADHD and conduct problems, so it will be important for future research to examine the role of epigenetic changes in this process.”

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