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Dieting during pregnancy bad for baby

Eating less early in the early stages of pregnancy may hurt your baby.

University of Texas researchers found reducing calories early in pregnancy impaired fetal brain development.

The research was conducted on rats whose brain developmental stages are thought to be similar to those of human fetuses.

Meantime researchers from the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR) in San Antonio and Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, formed a team to conduct a study on baboon mothers  at SFBR's Primate Research Center.

Participants were divided into two groups. They consumed a standard level of nutrition, but one group was asked to eat as much as they wanted while other group ate 30 percent less.

In the fetuses of mothers who reduced food intake during the first half of pregnancy the formation of cell-to-cell connections, cell division, and amounts of growth factors were found to decrease.

"This is a critical time window when many of the neurons as well as the supporting cells in the brain are born," said Peter Nathanielsz, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Research in the Health Science Center School of Medicine.

Laura Cox from SFBR said the work on nutritional environment impact on the fetal brain at both the cellular and molecular levels help them find dysregulation of hundreds of genes.

Many of those genes are key regulators in cell growth and development, indicating that nutrition plays a key role during fetal development by regulating the basic cellular machinery.

The study is the first demonstration of major effects caused by the levels of food insecurity that occur in sections of U.S. society, and demonstrates the vulnerability of the fetus to moderate reduction in nutrients, said Dr. Thomas McDonald of the Health Science Center.

"This study is a further demonstration of the importance of good maternal health and diet. It supports the view that poor diets in pregnancy can alter development of fetal organs, in this case the brain, in ways that will have lifetime effects on offspring, potentially lowering IQ and predisposing to behavioral problems.",  Mcdonald added.

Because of these new findings, scientists may focus next on the effects of developmental programming as it relates to autism, depression, schizophrenia and other brain disorders.

Researchers say pregnant women need to understand they are able to protect the fetus from the affects of poor nutrition.