Women planning a pregnancy are currently advised to take supplemental folic acid to reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defect, such as spina bifida.
Some countries such as the US have even introduced mandatory fortification of flour to ensure women have adequate folic acid in their diet.
However it is a matter of debate, whether this is a good idea. Some research suggests there may be a complex relationship between dietary exposure to folic acid and the risk of developing certain cancers.
New research now adds another dimension to this debate.
Food components including folic acid and vitamin B12 are known to be methyl donors.
This involves the addition of a methyl group to DNA, which in turn affects the activity of genes. Previous research on female Avy mice found that including a methyl donor in the maternal mouse diet influenced the gene activity in her pups, turning the pup's coats from yellow to brown.
Avy mice are also obese, hence Rob Waterland and colleagues from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, US, conducted experiments to establish whether this too could be altered by epigenetics, specifically DNA methylation.
They fed female Avy mice methyl donating compounds including folic acid, vitamin B12, betaine and choline. The pups of these females were weighed, and the experiment repeated feeding the methyl donors to the female pups.
The team expected to find that weight decreased over the generations as the animals inherited and acquired more methylation. Instead they found the opposite, the mice got heavier down the generations. When the experiment was repeated with non-Avy mice, the results were similar.
The authors concluded that although it is too early to comment on the potential effects of supplementing the human diet with these B vitamins, it would appear that there may be relationship between these vitamins and obesity in their offspring.
This is, therefore, another factor to consider in the debate over whether expectant mothers should supplement their diet with folic acid. Waterland's team are currently conducting further investigations.Source: Scenta