Healthy diet during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of ADHD in children

Healthy diet during pregnancy

A healthy diet during pregnancy is essential to mothers’ and children’s health.

In a recent study, researchers from Leiden University and Erasmus MC-University find that eating healthily can help reduce the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. The finding is published in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

In the study, researchers analyzed dietary and health data in 164 mother-child pairs from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. They focused on how the mothers’ nutrition affected the epigenetic changes (or DNA methylation) of gene IGF2 in children.

Gene IGF2 is involved in fetal development and the brain development of the cerebellum and hippocampus. These brain areas can be strongly influenced by ADHD.

Researchers assessed how high-fat and -sugar diet in mothers could influence IGF2 methylation and ADHD symptoms.

The result showed that unhealthy diet during pregnancy was passively associated with IGF2 methylation at birth. Furthermore, higher IGF2 methylation predicted ADHD symptoms.

Researchers suggest that poor prenatal nutrition was associated with higher IGF2 methylation, which in turn increases the risk of ADHD. This highlights the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy.

Children with ADHD have problems in paying attention. They also show excessive activity and difficulty in controlling their behavior which is not appropriate for a person’s age.

These symptoms begin by age 6-12 and cause problems in at least two settings (such as school, home, or recreational activities). In schoolchildren, problems paying attention may result in poor school performance.

Researchers suggest that having a healthy diet (e.g., low-fat and low-sugar) in pregnancy may help reduce the risk of ADHD symptoms via lower IGF2 methylation in children.

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Citation: Rijlaarsdam J, et al. (2016). Prenatal unhealthy diet, insulin-like growth factor 2 gene (IGF2) methylation, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms in youth with early-onset conduct problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, published online. DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12589.
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.