LIVING IN THE WOMB AND HEALTH AS CHILDREN AND ADULTS!
THE WOMB - YOUR MOTHER - YOURSELF
Cancer. Heart disease. Obesity, Depression. Scientists can
now trace adult health to the nine months befor birth!!!
by Anne Murphy Paul
Continued from previous page
an individual's first environment and thereby shaping its
The differences Monk has found among fetuses appear to
persist after birth. And because basic physiological patterns
like heart rate are associated with more general differences in
temperament, Monk says, "it may be that the roots of
temperamental variation go back to the womb."
It could even be the case that a pregnant woman's emotional
state influences her offspring's later susceptibility to mental
illness. "We know that some people have genetic predispositions
to conditions like depression and anxiety," Monk says. "And we
know that being raised by a parent with mental illness can
increase the risk of mental illness in the offspring. It may be
that the intrauterine environment is a third pathway by which
mental illness is passed down in families." This kind of
research, says Monk, "is pushing back the starting line for when
we become who we are."
Back to the Future
TEN YEARS AGO, WHEN MATTHEW GILLMAN, a professor of
population medicine at Harvard University, launched Project Viva
- a study tracking more than 2,000 Boston-area children since
they were fetuses - he knew he wanted to explore the effects of
childhood experiences on later health. "But David Barker's
research had started me wondering: When do these experiences
really begin?" says Gillman. "I came to think they begin before
birth, and so my study would have to start there too." Already
the project has begun to illuminate the fetal origins of asthma,
allergies, obesity and heart disease, as well as the role of
gestational factors in brain development.
There are more revelations on the way. This year, the first
of 100,000 pregnant women began enrolling in the National
Children's Study, a massive, federally funded effort to uncover
the developmental roots of health and disease. Researchers are
conducting interviews with the women about their behaviors during
pregnancy; sampling their hair, blood, saliva and urine; and
testing the water and dust in their homes. The women and their
children will be followed until the offspring turn 21, and the
first results from the study, concerning the causes of premature
births and birth defects, are expected in 2012. Another line of
research is developing interventions aimed at preventing disease.
David Williams, a principal investigator at the Linus Pauling
Institute at Oregon State University, is testing the notion that
certain substances consumed during pregnancy can provide
offspring with lifelong chemoprotection from illness. In
Williams' studies, the offspring of mice that ingested a
phytochemical derived from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli
and cabbage during pregnancy were much less likely to get cancer,
even when exposed to a known carcinogen. After they were weaned,
the offspring in Williams' experiments never encountered these
protective chemicals again, yet their exposure shielded them from
cancer well into maturity. He predicts that one day, pregnant
women will be prescribed a dietary supplement that will protect
their future children from cancer. "It's not science fiction," he
says. "I think that's where we're headed."
Knowledge gleaned from fetal-origins research may even
benefit those of us whose births are in the past. "I always ask
my adult patients what their birth weight was," says
Mary-Elizabeth Patti, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical
School and a physician-scientist at the university affiliated
Joslin Diabetes Center. "Patients are often surprised at the
question - they expect me to ask about their current lifestyle.
But we know that low-birth-weight babies become adults with a
higher risk of diabetes, so having that information gives me a
more complete picture of their case." Patti is researching how
data about patients' birth weight could translate into tailored
courses of treatment.
These possibilities may seem strange and surprising, but
then the notion that we owe anything about our mature selves to
our experiences during childhood was once considered preposterous
too - before Sigmund Freud first pointed our attention to those
formative years. With time and evidence, the idea that our health
and wellbeing are shaped during gestation could also come to seem
common-sensical. Perhaps our children, whose first snapshots were
taken not in a hospital bassinet but inside a uterus, won't find
the idea of fetal origins odd at all.
As for me, the baby in my belly for those nine months is now
a sandy-haired toddler named Gus. Where did his particular
qualities come from? Will he be strong or sickly, excitable or
calm? What will his future hold? These are the questions parents
have long pondered about their children. More and more, it looks
as if many of the answers will be found in the womb.
THE ROOTS OF MENTAL HEALTH
Studies have women who are pregnant during historical periods of
stress or famine give birth to offspring who are more likely than
those born in calmer times to develop schizophrenia in young
adulthood. Maternal malnutrition may disrupt neural development,
contributing to the illness.
Research has found increased rates of premature delivery and low
birth weight among babies born to depressed women. Scientists are
also discovering possible links between a mother's mood and a
fetus's sensitivity to stress, and perhaps even the temperament
it exhibits after birth.
NATIONAL CHILDREN'S STUDY
In 2009, pregnant women began enrolling in a study of 100,000
U.S. children from before birth to age 21.
dacp.org/viva For more than a decade, researchers have tracked
2,000 Boston-area kids from the time they were fetuses.
COLUMBIA CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
The research center studies the effects of prenatal exposure to
Now all that is amazing - so maybe there is much more to Exodus
20:5,6 than we ever thought. The wrong way of living, departing
from the laws of God - yes even the physical laws of health -
during pregnancy can effect the generations to come, until we get
with the program of obeying God's laws - physically, mentally,