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.
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
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”
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.