Factors that affect the developing fetus may affect risk of cancer, heart disease and other conditions later in life. More than 30 years ago, it was proposed that the origins of many chronic diseases could be traced to exposures in utero or during early infancy. Following up on this hypothesis, Dutch researchers recently looked at the effects of antioxidants on the offspring of pregnant mice.
The mice were given either genistein, an isoflavone found in soybeans and soyfods, or quercetin, an antioxidant found in apples, onions, tea, and grapes. A third group of mice were given both of these compounds together. The compounds were administered during pregnancy and then the offspring were followed through adulthood.
Since the liver and lungs are especially sensitive to DNA-damaging effects of pro-oxidants, these were the two organs studied. Exposure to genistein in utero resulted in an increase in total antioxidant status in the lungs once the mice reached adulthood. Also, both genistein and quercetin lowered the levels of damaged DNA in the liver. This may have been due to changes in the expression of certain genes that control production of enzymes involved in preventing free radical damage.
The authors concluded that effects on the antioxidant system during fetal development has long-lasting impacts on risk for certain diseases—those that are related to oxidative stress. Whether or not these findings apply to humans isn’t known, but they add to the case for consuming a healthy, antioxidant-rich diet throughout pregnancy.
Vanhees K, van Schooten FJ, Doorn-Khosrovani SB, et al. Intrauterine exposure to flavonoids modifies antioxidant status at adulthood and decreases oxidative stress induced DNA damage. Free Radic Biol Med 2013;