July 1, 2008

Mother’s Diet Could Add To Child’s Risk

Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers who regularly eat processed fatty foods could be putting their child at an increased risk of developing long-lasting health conditions, according to recent research involving animals.

Researchers with the Royal Veterinary College and London's Wellcome Trust studied a group of rats and their offspring after being fed processed foods. They noted a higher level of fat in their bloodstream and around major organs during adolescence.

Published in The Journal of Physiology, the study also found that animals that received a high fat diet were at an increased risk of developing diabetes.

Previous studied by the same group have shown that rats whose mothers were fed junk food during pregnancy and breastfeeding were more likely to crave similar snacks themselves. The new research shows that even if the offspring is able to discontinue its high fat habit, the damage may already have been done.

"It seems that a mother's diet whilst pregnant and breastfeeding is very important for the long-term health of her child," said Dr. Stephanie Bayol, one of the researchers.

"We always say: 'You are what you eat', but in fact it may also be true that you are what your mother ate."

Researchers were concerned about their observation of gathering fat around major organs, which is an identifying factor involved with the development of type II diabetes.

The rats with unhealthy mothers were more likely to have this, even if they were weaned off the junk food diet.

However, whereas the male offspring of unhealthy mothers typically had higher levels of insulin and normal blood sugar, the opposite was true of females, who also tended to be fatter.

Professor Neil Stickland, another of the researchers, said these principles are easily translated to humans as well.

"Humans share a number of fundamental biological systems with rats, so there is good reason to assume the effects we see in rats may be repeated in humans."

"Pregnancy can be a difficult time for many mothers, but it is important that they are aware that what they eat may affect their offspring," said Dr. Pat Goodwin, from the Wellcome Trust.

But Dr. Simon Langley-Evans, nutrition researcher from the University of Nottingham, said the study only showed that a mother's diet could affect the cravings and appetite of their offspring.

"What it does show is that this early influence from the mother is very important," he said.


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