redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Mothers who regularly consume high-fat, high-sugar foods while pregnant effectively program their children to be addicted to junk food by the time they are weaned, researchers from the University of Adelaide have discovered.
Laboratory studies led by Dr. Bev MÃ¼hlhÃ¤usler, a postdoctoral fellow in the university’s FOODplus Research Centre, discovered that a diet high in fatty or sugary foods during pregnancy and lactation desensitized the body´s normal reward system.
The study, which was published in a recent edition of The FASEB Journal, is said to be the first to examine the impact of a mother´s junk food consumption during the early stages of her offspring´s life.
According to MÃ¼hlhÃ¤usler and her colleagues, opioids, which are produced by the body as a reward in response to such things as fat and sugar, stimulate the production of the hormone dopamine. Dopamine, in turn, helps create a good feeling within a person.
They discovered that mothers who ate junk-food heavy diets while pregnant produced offspring with a less sensitive opioid signaling pathway. As a result, the child would need to consume more fat and sugar in order to trigger his or her reward system to obtain the same positive feeling — increasing their preference for junk good while also encouraging them to overeat in order to achieve those sensations.
“In the same way that someone addicted to opioid drugs has to consume more of the drug over time to achieve the same ‘high’, continually producing excess opioids by eating too much junk food results in the need to consume more foods full of fat and sugar to get the same pleasurable sensation,” Dr. MÃ¼hlhÃ¤usler said in a statement. “Mothers eating a lot of junk food while pregnant are setting up their children to be addicted.”
“Although our research shows that many of the long-term health problems associated with maternal junk food diets can be avoided if offspring carefully follow a healthy diet after weaning, they are always going to have a predisposition for overconsumption of junk food and obesity,” she added. “It’s going to make it much more difficult for them to maintain a healthy body weight.”
The doctor explains that it is essential to attempt to understand the impact of a pregnant mother´s diet in the earliest stages of the offspring. They hope to determine whether or not the problem can be reversed biologically, but thus far, Dr MÃ¼hlhÃ¤usler said that their findings suggest that the changes to the opioid receptors are permanent.
“The take-home message for women is that eating large amounts of junk food during pregnancy and while breastfeeding will have long-term consequences for their child’s preference for these foods, which will ultimately have negative effects on their health,” the lead researcher said.