There have been lots of studies showing that kids are more likely to be overweight or “sugar-holics” if their parents, particularly their mothers, are. Many of these studies have based their conclusions on the role that mothers play in selecting foods for the household and in building awareness (or the lack thereof) of good nutrition in their kids.
A new study takes a different perspective, suggesting that the food that women ingest while pregnant and lactating helps to determine neural pathways and later eating habits.
Beverly Muhlhausler, Ph.D., from the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia led the investigation into the effect that junk-food intake has on the brain of the developing fetus and infant.
Muhlhausler et al. divided pregnant mice into two groups, with the control group receiving normal mice chow and the experimental group receiving a junk food diet high in fats and sugars.
After weaning, the baby mice were then allowed to choose the type of food that they wanted.
The mice whose mothers had ingested the junk-food diet were more likely to choose the junky diet over those babies whose mothers had eaten the healthier diet.
The brains of the baby mice from the experimental group also had higher levels of the receptor for opioids than the babies from the control group, suggesting that the high fat and high sugar diet leads to changes in the fetal brain’s reward pathway, altering food preferences.
You can find the entire study in the new issue of The FASEB Journal.
What does this mean for us? Well, I would like to blame my addiction to chocolate-covered ginger on my mother, but that wouldn’t be totally fair.
Mothers may influence our brains during our developmental stages, but we now know that we can still influence our brain structure later on. New research in neuroscence is showing that while our brains may have developed in a less than ideal manner, we can apply neuroplastic principles to help re-develop our brains.