Mothers who eat junk food during pregnancy or breastfeeding are setting their babies up to become addicted to high-fat, high-sugar diets, a new study warns.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide suggest that such mothers have already programmed their babies to become addicted to high-fat, high-sugar foods while they are weaned while pregnant.
In laboratory studies, researchers have found that a junk food diet during pregnancy and lactation desensitizes the normal reward system stimulated by these highly palatable foods.
Led by Dr. Bev Muhlhausler, a postdoctoral fellow at the university’s FoodPlus Research Center, this is the first study to show the effects of mothers’ junk food consumption so early in a child’s life.
Opioids are produced by the body as a reward response, along with a response to fat and sugar. These opioids stimulate the production of the “feel good” hormone dopamine, which creates a good feeling.
“We found that the opioid signaling pathway (reward pathway) in these children was less sensitive than in mothers whose mothers were eating a standard diet,” Mühlhausler said.
This means that babies born to mothers who eat a diet dominated by junk food will need to eat more fat and sugar to get the same feel-good feeling, increasing their preference for junk food. This will encourage them to overeat.
“Just as someone addicted to opioid drugs needs to take more and more of the drug over time to achieve the same ‘high,’ constantly consuming extra junk food requires eating extra fat and sugar to get the same pleasurable sensation,” says Mühlhausler.
“Mothers who eat a lot of junk food during pregnancy are making their children addicted.
“Although our research shows that many of the long-term health problems associated with maternal junk food diets can be avoided if the offspring carefully follow a healthy diet after weaning, they will always have a tendency to eat more junk food and be obese. It is important for them to maintain a healthy body weight. will make it more difficult to keep,” Mühlhausler said in a statement.
Muhlhausler says it’s important to try and understand the effects of maternal diet on the very early stages of the child to see which systems can be targeted to reverse the problem.
Preliminary results from subsequent work, however, suggested that the changes in opioid receptors were permanent.
“The accepted message for women is that consuming large amounts of junk food during pregnancy and breastfeeding will have long-term consequences for their child’s preference for these foods, which will ultimately have a negative impact on their health,” says Mühlhausler.
The research was recently published in the journal FASEB.