Updated 17 July 2013

Knowing DNA profile boosts healthy pregnancy

Advances in genetic research are providing pregnant women with new ways of ensuring they have the nutritional balance they need.

Advances in genetic research are providing pregnant women with new ways of ensuring they have the nutritional balance they need for the development of their unborn child. 

“By knowing their own unique DNA profile, women who are pregnant or who are planning to fall pregnant are able to find out if they need to adjust their nutrient intake to improve their own health and the development of the foetus,” says Helen de Beer, a dietician with DNAlysis Biotechnology, a South African-based molecular biotechnology company.

During pregnancy it is vital that the mother has a sufficient intake of B Vitamins, including folate, for the development of the foetus, particularly for the development of the neural tube. Without the right levels of folate and other B vitamins, the neural tube does not close completely, and this may result in conditions such as spina bifida.

Maintaining healthy DNA

Folate is essential in maintaining healthy DNA and is also a key nutrient for conception and during pregnancy, which is a time of rapid cell growth and cell division. Inadequate B vitamins in the diet, including folate, B2, B6 and B12 will decrease your body’s ability to replicate and repair DNA properly.

 B vitamins also supply some of the chemicals necessary for protecting our genes, so that our DNA doesn’t accumulate damage from the wear and tear in the daily lives of our cells. This process of DNA repair is called methylation.

Poor methylation results in decreased levels of a “good” protein called methionine, and increased levels of a harmful protein called homocysteine –which is linked to many diseases including cancer, heart disease and neural tube defects. Variation in the sequence of our genes can alter metabolism of homocysteine and methionine, and can result in an increase in the incidence of miscarriage, birth defects and various cancers.

Risk for higher levels of homocysteine

MTHFR is a key enzyme in the folate metabolism pathway. It directs folate consumed in the diet to either synthesize new DNA or repair DNA.  Two variants of the MTHFR gene results in reduced MTHFR enzyme activity and thus reduced DNA methylation, with a subsequent increased risk for higher levels of homocysteine – the “bad” protein.

These gene variants occur at relatively high frequencies in the population, and there is substantial evidence that individuals possessing these gene variants have increased requirements for folate and B vitamins. The RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) for folate for the general adult population is 400ug and increases to 600ug for pregnant women.

Unfortunately, it is well documented that most men and women do not achieve even this conservative intake. The good news is that individuals tend to respond rapidly when dietary intake of folate is increased and/or B vitamin supplements taken.

Some women have a genetic profile that indicates that these enzymes involved in methylation are not functioning optimally, and this means that they require greater amounts of folate, to prevent an increased risk for miscarriage and birth defects. It is also important that MTHFR risk variant carriers ensure optimal intake of vitamins B2, B6 and B12, as these are also essential nutrients in the folate metabolism pathway.

The complete mapping of the human genome, first announced in 2003, has completely changed biomedical research and given scientists new insight into the way in which DNA replicates.

A DNA test will give you insight to your DNA health.

For more information on DNAlysis and its various products visit their website or call (011) 268 0268.


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