April 15, 2011

Stress in Pregnancy = Obese Kids?

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- According to a team of experts, pregnant women who lead a physically and psychologically stressful life may inadvertently affect not only the mental well-being of their unborn child but may also have a child who has a higher risk of obesity. Their offspring may in turn "transmit" that increased risk to the next generation.

The researchers, who conducted their studies in animals, believe that the mother's stress causes changes in the way neuropeptide Y (a brain neurotransmitter) behaves. Neuropeptide Y stimulates appetite and can induce the formation and growth of fat cells. Stress may cause modifications of the offspring's genes that increase the activity of neuropeptide Y and, in turn, increase the number of fat cells in the body.

The number of fat cells people have before they reach their teen years is a major determinant of their risk for obesity, said study researcher Ruijun Han, of the University of Minnesota Medical School's Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology. "So intervention during pregnancy and childhood might be an efficient way to prevent adult obesity," Han said.

However, more work needs to be done to see if stress produces the same effects in humans.

Only female offspring in the study appeared affected by the mother's stress in pregnancy. The researchers are not sure why this is, but it may be because fatty tissue is more important for females in producing offspring later, Han said.

SOURCE: Experimental Biology 2011 Meeting in Washington, D.C.