A good diet before pregnancy is as important as a healthy diet during pregnancy. New research has shown that diet before pregnancy changes the DNA of the newborn.

The changes in the DNA altered the way fats were digested in the body. The research was conducted on mice models where the lack of a certain compound in a mother's diet led to changes in fatty acid metabolism in the newborn.

"As parents, we have to understand better that our responsibilities to our children are not only of a social, economical, or educational nature, but that our own biological status can contribute to the fate of our children, and this effect can be long-lasting," said study author Mihai Niculescu, MD, from Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina.

In the present study, female mice were divided into two groups. The first group of female mice received a controlled diet that did not have a compound called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, while the other group had a normal diet. Also, these dietary changes did not affect the total calorie consumption of the mice.

ALA is an essential fatty acid, meaning the body does not produce ALA and in order to get it, we must eat foods with high levels of ALA. This fatty acid is known to help protect against heart disease. These female mice were then bred with male mice that were kept on similar diets. When the mice produced offspring, they were further divided into two more groups.

The first subgroup in each group- female mice and their pups- received a diet rich in flaxseed aimed to restore ALA in the experimental mice. The diet of the other two subgroups remained unchanged. Researchers then looked at the levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in the blood and liver of these mice plus the DNA methylation of a gene, Fads2, which regulates the breakdown of PUFA in the body.

Methylation does not change the genetic structure of the DNA but alters the way it is expressed. DNA methylation represses the gene expression or puts it in "off" mode. Researchers found that mice on the flaxseed diet had their genes that regulate PUFA metabolism in the switched off mode.

"New York City may be laughed at by some for banning large, sugary sodas and for encouraging a healthy diet," said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.

"This report shows that future generations might not find that funny at all. This report adds to the large body of evidence that an inappropriate diet can produce changes in the function of our DNA and the DNA of our children-a process called epigenetics. As we begin understand the effects of diet on epigenetics, New York may go from being considered a funny 'nanny-state' to becoming appreciated as a public health visionary," said Weissmann.

The study was published in The FASEB Journal.