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Parents-to-be need to consider their diet

Published February 02. 2013 09:02AM

I don't think the comment came from jealousy. Someone who has seen the guy's girlfriend, however, might say otherwise.

What I'd like to think is that my brain was distracted still processing the amazing research I had read before meeting a group of about a dozen cyclists in a grocery store parking lot when what sounded like an insult just came out.

Big Jim, the ride leader introduced me to the new guy, a dentist from the Philly area. The dentist said, "You rode with my girlfriend last fall. The dental hygienist going on the cycling vacation. Remember?"

Did I ever.

Brunette. Late 20s. Definitely easy on the eyes. She introduced herself as being somewhat new to cycling and needing work in the hills before going to Europe with her boyfriend.

"Then you need to try and follow Kevin," Big Jim said.

But fall's the off-season, so I told her we'd just take the hills at a moderate pace and work on her pedaling form. Her personal form, I'm pleased to announce, needed no such work.

On the bike, however, her blessed body rocked even before she really powered the pedals, so much so that even on the flats she sometimes struggled to hold a straight line. It was on the flats that I found out she was almost as disciplined about her diet as I am.

She must have told her boyfriend about our similarity, for he said, "But I can't get as worked up about eating all that godforsaken good stuff as you can."

Here's where the accidental insult came out. The guy was soft looking, with a face too full to be a really serious cyclist. But I honestly wasn't thinking about the extra pounds he carried when I said, "You certainly should."

Unfortunately, the other gathered cyclists were. They laughed like inebriates listening to Denis Leary doing stand-up.

I never tried to explain for fear they would laugh even more, but I really was alluding to the research I had just read.

In it, Duke University researchers cloned mice embryos. You would expect that even though the embryos were implanted in different mothers that the baby mice would look the same.

After all, the embryos shared the same DNA.

But the pups were born with radically different fur colors and significant differences in body weight. And as they grew, some developed chronic diseases that the others did not even though they were treated similarly.

How did this occur? While they were fetuses, the researchers fed the expecting mothers quite differently.

What happened, the researchers concur, is just another example of what's called epigenetics, the change in gene expression not the genes themselves as a result of an outside element such as diet. The understanding of epigenetics and research like this is why for dozens of years I've been writing that your diet deserves serious consideration.

Especially if you plan to be a parent.

What epigenetics suggests is that what parents-to-be eat not only affects them but also affects their children and grandchildren. How's that for a heavy burden?

But the Duke research isn't an isolated instance.

In 2010, Spanish researchers overfed baby mice to the point that they developed insulin resistance, obesity, and glucose intolerance, a cluster of problems called metabolic syndrome for the trio often leads to diabetes. Eventually they had these mice reproduce and made sure that the newborns did not ever overeat.

Even so, many of the second generation developed metabolic syndrome even though the researchers couldn't determine how the diseases were inherited.

More recently, other research with mice at Duke showed that how pups processed polyunsaturated fatty acid in their livers directly related to the mothers' intake of a specific type of it, alpha-linoleic acid during pregnancy.

The results caused study author Mihai Niculescu, M.D., Ph.D., to state, "As parents, we have to understand better that our responsibilities to our children are not only of a social, economical, or educational nature, but [also] that our biological status can contribute to the fate of our children."

But even if you're the progeny of parents who ate nothing but junk, you are not doomed. Past research performed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham showed that eating a certain way can actually suppress certain gene aberrations that create diseases.

While other factors like your degree of exercise, whether you smoke, and your exposure to pollution, also affect gene expression, the foods that the UAB researchers found to battle bad genes are cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, soy beans, fava beans, grapes, green tea, and broccoli though chances are there are dozens more.

For instance, one cup of broccoli a day contains enough sulforaphane, a phytochemical also found in some of the other listed foods, to reduce the incidence of a number of cancers. Additional work done on sulforaphane confirms this. Oregon State University researchers, for instance, placed mice on a high-sulforaphane diet and found it retarded prostate tumor growth.

Prostate cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer in men over age 75 and the third most common cause of death from cancer in men of all ages.

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