Epigenetics & Obesity

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine have made a groundbreaking discovery – Overweight moms give birth to children who become even more overweight and who in turn have children who become even more overweight and so on and so on.

And as we know, you can’t beat bad genetics. Those pudgy little kids are doomed.

Or, maybe not. According to this study, researchers found that by supplementing an obese mother’s diet with folic acid and other methyl supplements, they were able to reverse this form of inherited obesity.”

The Hypothesis

Lead researcher, Dr. Robert Waterland, designed this study to test the hypothesis that maternal obesity before and during pregnancy affects the body weight regulatory mechanisms in her offspring. In layman’s terms, does a fat mom produce fat babies?

In regards to reversing this cycle of inherited obesity, Dr. Waterland believes that “DNA methylation may play an important role in the development of the hypothalamus (the region of the brain that regulates appetite).”

The Method

Waterland et al tested this hypothesis on three generations of genetically identical mice, all with the same genetic tendency to overeat. (agouti viable yellow [Avy] mice)

The mice were divided into two groups:

  1. Standard diet group
  2. Standard diet supplemented with folic acid, vitamin B12, betaine and choline. This special ‘methyl supplemented’ diet enhances DNA methylation.

With this special diet, they were attempting to reduce or silence the effect that the inherited gene had over the development of the baby mice.

Can mice that are genetically predisposed to obesity be spared from a life of stretchy pants and motorized scooters?

The Results

  • The mice on the standard diet piled on the body-fat, as expected, and subsequent generations were progressively more obese.
  • Those on the methyl supplemented diet did not gain weight through successive generations.

So what does this mean to me?

Well, according to Dr. Waterland, “the effect of methyl supplementation on body weight was independent of epigenetic changes at the Avy locus, indicating this model may have direct relevance to human transgenerational obesity”.

In layman’s terms, obese mothers who supplement with folic acid, vitamin B12, betaine and choline before & during their pregnancy might help their kids resist the scourge of childhood obesity.

NOTE:  This is only one study, performed on mice. There is more work to be done and just because this study is positive, moms-to-be should check in with their doctors before they start mega-dosing supplements in order to produce babies with six packs.


  1. Hi DR

    I think my weight problem is down to my DNA. I am genetically inclined to like chocolate, cakes, beer and other such things 🙂



    PS I like your style of writing, you mix serious subjects with humour. I think you Canadians are probably as daft as us Brits.

  2. Charlie,

    Thanks for the compliment. I am blushing.

    Regarding your list of genetically modified cravings, I think that you forgot to mention steak, chips and wenches.

    Personally, I could really go for a peameal / Canadian bacon, egg and cheddar cheese sandwich right now.

    I am dieting right now, so my cravings are through the roof.

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