A healthy diet during pregnancy has been emphasized by new research. Finding children with conduct disorder in early life may be more likely to develop symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA) if their mother consumes a high-fat, high-sugar diet while pregnant. Dr. Edward Barker, co-author, of King’s College London in the United Kingdom, and colleagues, have published their findings in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Mental Health America describes conduct disorder as a “repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in children and adolescents in which the rights of others or basic social rules are violated.” Aggressive behavior may be exposed, such as threatening or harming other people or animals. Nonaggressive behavior, such as causing deliberate damage to the property of others, might also be behavior in these children and adolescents.
Those diagnosed with conduct disorder may also engage in deceitful behavior, such as lying and theft, skipping school, staying out past curfew and other common rule violations.
It is also noted by Dr. Barker and colleagues that conduct disorder often co-occurs alongside attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and it has been suggested through research that such co-occurrence arises from a more serious heritable factor than either condition alone.
Unhealthy diet in early life, with both conduct disorder and ADHD, has been identified in previous studies. This is speculated by the researchers as being caused by DNA methylation of the insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2) gene. The IGF2 is involved in the fetal development and the development of brain areas involved in ADHD. The team hypothesizes that an unhealthy diet during pregnancy might affect this gene in a way that puts offspring at risk for behavioral problems. The team analyzed data of 164 children and their mothers who took part in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Eighty-three of these children had early onset conduct disorder and 81 had low levels of conduct problems. They further assessed the mothers’ diets during pregnancy, and blood samples from their children taken at birth and 7 years of age, in order to determine whether prenatal diet affects IGF2.
The mothers in both groups of children had a diet high in fat and sugar during their pregnancy, which showed higher DNA methylation of IGF2 at birth. This was compared with children whose mothers had a healthy diet in pregnancy. The higher IGF2 methylation at birth among children with early onset conduct disorder was linked to more symptoms of ADHD, between the ages of 7-13 years. This highlights the critical importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy, and the study results suggest a healthy prenatal diet may lower ADHD symptoms and conduct problems in children.
They now plan to investigate how specific nutrition groups affect neural development, to better pinpoint the best foods for expectant mother to consume in order to lower their offspring’s risk of ADHD.
–Dr Fredda Branyon