I know what it is like to have a child born with a birth defect. As a parent, the worry and guilt an be overbearing if you don’t focus on the love and positive nature of the situation. My son was born with a congenital heart defect, and our lives have been simultaneously blessed by his being and challenged by concern and worry.
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 16-years-old. Since I eat naturally, my diet is low in fat. A new study has found that a mother’s high fat diet combined with genetic factors actually increases a child’s risk of being born with a defect, specifically congenital heart defect and cleft palate. At least this is one cause I can rule out with my son’s condition, although I have given up searching for a cause.
Testing mice, researchers at the the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University discovered a link between a maternal fatty diet, genetics, and birth defects. EmaxHealth reports:
The offspring of the mice given the high fat diet had a sevenfold increased risk of cleft palate and double the risk of atrial isomerism, suggesting that a combination of diet and genetic defect was responsible. The high fat diet appeared to interact with the Cited2 deficiency to reduce the expression of another gene called Pitx2, which is necessary for heart development and the body’s natural asymmetry.
“These are very important findings as we have been able to show for the first time that gene-environment interactions can affect development of the embryo in the womb,” said Bentham. “We know that poor diet and defective genes can both affect development, but here we have seen the two combine to cause a much greater risk of developing health problems and more severe problems.”
If something as simple as a diet change could prevent such serious birth defects, the future would be brighter for so many families. EmaxHealth reports that one-third of all US babies are born with a birth defect. One can’t help but wonder if our toxic environment and poor diets are to blame for such a high probability, especially in light of this British study.
It’s important to note that this study was conducted on mice, not humans, and that they were fed a diet in which starch was largely replaced by conventional lard (not a particularly nutrient-dense fat), sugar and vitamin and mineral supplements (most likely synthetic since the researchers didn’t specify). To extrapolate that data and say, in turn, that a high fat diet would cause similar defects in humans is really pushing the envelope of what can be considered good science. A diet of conventional lard, sugar and supplements is probably not such a great idea for any animal, human or mouse.
But, that’s not to say a diet in nutrient-dense, natural fats like raw butter would cause the same effects. Lack of retinol (vitamin A from animal sources) is implicated in congenital defects and a vegetarian diet is implicated in hypospadias in humans.
Jennifer Lance says
Good points about the quality of fat.
Katie T. says
Good points, Jenny. Can you site any studies that show a higher incidence of hypospadias in vegetarians? Not that I don’t believe, you, quite the contrary. I ask because I have had multiple friends with sons born with this condition, both vegetarian and omnivore. I have often wondered about the link between environmental toxins, ingestion of hormones, soy, etc. and this condition as it seems rampant.