AUDIO: Can mom's diet lower baby's risk of disease?

Two B.C. researchers are looking into how a mother's diet during pregnancy affects the future health of her baby, including its susceptibility to infection.

Two University of British Columbia researchers are looking into how a mother's diet during pregnancy affects the health of her baby.

"Maternal diets really have a profound effect on their offspring's health even if that offspring eats a different diet," biologist Deanna Gibson told CBC's As It Happens. "And that's just a fundamental idea that I don't think most of us actually understand."

Research suggests that a mother's diet during pregnancy can have a profound effect on her offspring's health. (iStock)

Gibson and Sanjoy Ghosh, both assistant professors in biology at UBC's Okanagan campus, have received a $100,000 grant from the Grand Challenges Explorations program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to look at how people's susceptibility to disease is affected by the types of fats their mothers ate during pregnancy.

For example, Gibson said, studies have already shown that if a mother eats large amounts of fish oil during pregnancy, it may exacerbate her child's colitis — an inflammation of the colon.

The effects of a mother's diet on her unborn children seem to be linked to the microflora — the microorganisms that live in people's guts — that are passed on from mother to child, Gibson said. There is evidence microflora can affect not only susceptibility to infection but also may have links to metabolic disease, diabetes and even autism, she added.

"It's in that first two years of a baby's life that they collect all their microflora," Gibson said. "Some of us believe that this might be stable then for their entire adult life."

Gibson and Ghosh hope that experiments in mice will show whether altering a mother's diet during pregnancy can affect microflora in a way that reduces her offspring's susceptibility to infection.