Maternal Pregnancy Diet Quality Is Directly Associated with Autonomic Nervous System Function in 6-Month-Old Offspring

J Nutr. 2020 Feb 1;150(2):267-275. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxz228.


Background: Many pregnant women are consuming diets of poor overall quality. Although many studies have linked poor prenatal diet quality to an increased risk of specific diseases in offspring, it is not known if exposure to poor prenatal diet affects core neurophysiological regulatory systems in offspring known to lie upstream of multiple diseases.

Objective: We aimed to examine the association between prenatal diet quality and autonomic nervous system (ANS) function in infants at 6 mo of age.

Methods: Data from 400 women (aged >18 y, with uncomplicated pregnancies) and their infants participating in the Maternal-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals-Infant Development cohort were used to investigate links between prenatal diet quality and infant ANS function at 6 mo of age. Prenatal diet quality was assessed using the Healthy Eating Index (2010), calculated from a validated FFQ completed by women during the first trimester. Infant ANS function was measured using 2 assessments of heart rate variability (HRV) including root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD) and SD of N-N intervals (SDNN). Associations were analyzed before and after adjustment for socioeconomic status, maternal depression symptoms, maternal cardiometabolic dysfunction, breastfeeding, and prenatal smoking.

Results: Poorer prenatal diet quality was associated with lower infant HRV assessed using RMSSD (B: 0.07; 95% CI: 0.01, 0.13; R2 = 0.013) and SDNN (B: 0.18; 95% CI: 0.02, 0.35; R2 = 0.011). These associations remained significant after adjustment for confounding variables [RMSSD: B: 0.09; 95% CI: 0.003, 0.18; squared semipartial correlation (sp2) = 0.14 and SDNN B: 0.24; 95% CI: 0.0, 0.49; sp2 = 0.13].

Conclusions: In a large cohort study, poorer prenatal diet quality was associated with lower offspring HRV, a marker of decreased capacity of the ANS to respond adaptively to challenge. Therefore, poor prenatal diet may play a significant role in the programming of multiple organ systems and could increase general susceptibility to disease in offspring.

Keywords: biomarkers; developmental origins of health and disease; diet quality; maternal diet; neuropsychiatric disorders; pregnancy; prenatal programming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Canada
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pregnancy

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