Developed by a team of researchers from UC's Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC), the study – which aimed to assess whether maternal malnutrition causes alterations at the level of mitochondria (the energy-producing cell organelles) in the heart of fetuses – suggests that "these babies should receive lifelong medical follow-up, given their increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease."

According to the results of the research, carried out using an animal model, a 30 percent reduction in the amount of food provided to mothers during pregnancy produces profound changes in the function of the babies' cardiac mitochondria, underlines the UC, in a note sent on 30 June to Lusa News Agency.

It was found that "these alterations interfere in the way mitochondria produce energy and in the way they participate in several essential cellular functions, which can promote cardiac dysfunctions earlier in adulthood".

In an innovative and controlled way, "it was possible to establish a causal relationship between the feeding of mothers during pregnancy and the cardiac function of the baby", explains Susana Pereira, first author of the scientific article and researcher at CNC-UC and CIAFEL - Research Center in Physical Activity, Health and Leisure, Faculty of Sport, University of Porto (UP).

“This work made evident a relationship that we had suspected for a long time to exist, now it becomes essential to define the ideal diet during pregnancy to enhance the health of the baby”, sustained the researcher.

It has also been observed that the effect of malnutrition during pregnancy is more pronounced on the heart of male fetuses. This difference, according to the authors, may explain the different susceptibility of men and women to heart disease during their lifetime.

This work, already published in the scientific journal Clinical Science, is part of a broader project, started in 2009, which aims to identify the effects of nutrition during pregnancy on the health of fetuses, namely in terms of the function of the mitochondria, and that, in addition to UC and UP involves two US universities – Wyoming and the Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.