APC Microbiome Ireland, together with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, found a mother with more omega-3 fat in her body may produce children with healthy guts.
Before the study was undertaken little was known about how a mother’s omega-3/omega-6 ratios affected their children’s health.
The modern western diet is deficient in healthy omega-3 fats that are found in oily fish, nuts and seeds.
It is also overloaded with less healthy omega-6 fats found in vegetable oils and fried foods, such as chips and crisps — an imbalance that may contribute to obesity, heart disease and other chronic diseases.
The study, published in the journal, Microbiome, found that baby laboratory mice gained less weight on a high-fat diet if their mother had more omega-3s in her body.
The baby mice also gained less weight if they breastfed from a mother with more omega-3 fats but this only occurred in male babies.
If a mother had more omega-6 fats in her body during pregnancy or breastfeeding, her pups’ guts were more ‘leaky’ which led to inflammation in their blood. The babies also had more unhealthy bacteria in their intestines, which may have contributed to their weight gain.
However, if the pups were breastfed by a mother with a more healthy omega-3/omega-6 fat ratio their guts had more healthy bacteria and were healthier. The effect of mother’s fat on her baby’s gut health continued throughout their life until they were adults.
The study’s lead author is Dr Ruairi Robertson from the Science Foundation Ireland Centre, ABC Microbiome Ireland, a collaboration between Teagasc and University College Cork.
“We have shown that a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding may affect her baby’s weight and gut health in the long term,” said Dr Robertson.
They also knew that a person’s gut bacteria were extremely important for their overall health.
“These results suggest that if a mother eats more healthy fats and less unhealthy fats during pregnancy and breastfeeding, she may be able to help the right types of microbes grow in her baby’s intestines and form a healthy gut for later life,” he said.
Prof Jing Kang at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University said they had now had reliable data suggesting two important health benefits.
“A balanced ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fats in a mother’s body during pregnancy and breastfeeding is critical for reducing risks of obesity in her children over their lifetime and microbes in her baby’s gut is a key player in mediating this effect,” said Prof Kang.