I am
Show me:
Show me:
Benefits of good fats might start before we’re born: new study
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Benefits of good fats might start before we’re born: new study

Media Release - 17 January 2020

A pregnant woman’s diet could affect how well her baby’s DNA protects against heart disease, cancer and other diseases later in life.

A new study, led by University of Sydney researcher and Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow, Associate Professor Michael Skilton, was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In the observational study of 169 newborns, Professor Skilton and his team looked at whether their mothers’ intake of fats and carbohydrates during pregnancy could be linked to a genetic process called epigenetic ageing in their babies, and if this process might increase the babies’ risk of developing heart disease as adults.

They found a higher maternal intake of saturated and monosaturated fat was associated with changes to this genetic process in the babies and that this process begins before birth.

Epigenetics investigates how the activity of genes can be changed, without changing the DNA structure. Epigenetic age acceleration is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other diseases in adults. But little is known about this process in babies and what it means for their life-long risk factors for heart disease and other conditions.

Analysing saliva from the babies, the researchers found there was a higher rate of epigenetic ageing in babies whose mothers ate more saturated and monosaturated fat during pregnancy. These babies - especially girls - were also more likely to have more body fat than other babies.

They found that in preterm babies, those with greater epigenetic ageing also had a thicker wall of the aorta, the main blood vessel that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the circulatory system.

While the researchers found there was a link between higher fat intake in pregnant women and “accelerated epigenetic ageing”, they could not say if it the fats directly caused this.

Professor Skilton said further research was needed to determine if that was the case.

The research was done at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney and the University of Sydney, in collaboration with researchers from CSIRO.

We tested the babies’ saliva when they were a few days old to measure a process called DNA methylation which is known to modify the function of genes,” Professor Skilton said.

“We asked the women to complete questionnaires about what they ate while they were pregnant.”

The researchers cross-checked the questionnaire results by analysing their blood samples.

The Heart Foundation, which was a major funder of the study, welcomed the findings.

Heart Foundation chief medical adviser and cardiologist, Professor Garry Jennings, said the study contributed to an emerging area of research.

Understanding how a mother’s environment, including her diet, affects the epigenetics of a newborn is an important first step in understanding the risk of developing chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease in the future,” Professor Jennings said.

“Further studies are required to confirm a causal link between maternal diet and newborn epigenetic ageing and to examine the impact of these early changes throughout the life course.” 

Professor Jennings said choosing a variety of healthy foods was important for good health for everyone.

“The Heart Foundation recommends eating more vegetables, legumes, fruits and wholegrains, healthy proteins like fish and seafood, with smaller amounts of red meat, while cutting down on highly processed food. This healthy eating pattern will provide a good balance of fats by including healthier unsaturated fats and limiting unhealthy saturated and trans fats.”

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Sign up now and discover delicious, easy to follow dinner recipes. Plus shopping lists, tips and other helpful information to make healthy eating easy. ...

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Help Keep families together this Christmas

Help Keep families together this Christmas

Help Keep families together this Christmas

Together, we can make heart disease history. Donate today to help fund ground-breaking heart research and keep families together this Christmas. ...

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Full list of clinical guidlines and references for CVD, heart failure, ACS, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, SCAD and RHD...

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Our range of clinical and patient support resources are available for you to use in your daily practice....

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join the Heart Foundation community. Together, we can make a real difference for Australian hearts. ...

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Workplace giving for employees

Workplace giving for employees

Workplace giving for employees

Your employer’s workplace giving program makes it easy to setup regular, tax-deductible donations from your pre-tax income. ...

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

Cardiac rehab is proven to keep you out of hospital and reduce your risk of death from heart conditions....

Seafood recipes

Seafood recipes

Seafood recipes

Find heart healthy seafood recipes...

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Heart Foundation delivers $17.2 million for cutting-edge heart research in a challenging year

Heart Foundation delivers $17.2 million for cutting-edge heart research in a challenging year

Heart Foundation delivers $17.2 million for cutting-edge heart research in a challenging year

Media Release 20 October 2020...

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

What does a heart-friendly diet look like?...

About the Lighthouse Hospital Project

About the Lighthouse Hospital Project

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Australia, but the burden of disease disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples....

Our Annual Reports

Our Annual Reports

Our Annual Reports

Discover our Annual reports from 2013 onwards. ...

Find a cardiac rehabilitation service near you

Find a cardiac rehabilitation service near you

This cardiac services directory presents information on cardiac rehab programs offered across Australia....

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Absolute CVD risk assessment is an integrated approach that estimates the cumulative risk of multiple risk factors to predict a heart attack or stroke event in the next five years....

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Not all dairy products are equal. Discover different types of dairy foods and their impact on heart health....

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

Heart attack at 35: Knowing the signs and symptoms

David reflects on how his life changed when he had a heart attack at 35 and how he got back on track....

Research funding programs

Research funding programs

Research funding programs

Our research funding supports outstanding researchers who share our vision of an Australia free from heart disease. ...

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Search through our vegetarian recipes...

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Find heart healthy Asian recipes....

Heart Foundation supports Wollongong City Council’s draft 10-year cycling strategy

Heart Foundation supports Wollongong City Council’s draft 10-year cycling strategy

Heart Foundation supports Wollongong City Council’s draft 10-year cycling strategy

Media Release - 30 June 2020 ...

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

With immediate help a cardiac arrest can be survived. Learn how to save a life....

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in NSW

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in NSW

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in NSW

A ground-breaking collaboration bringing together for the first time the state’s most eminent cardiovascular researchers...

Protein and heart health

Protein and heart health

Protein and heart health

What are the best sources of protein when it come to your heart health...

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

This is a guide to how you might be feeling after a heart attack. ...

Taking your medicines

Taking your medicines

Taking your medicines

There are many medicines that treat heart attack, angina, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other heart conditions....