Posted on Jun 05, 2013, 6 a.m.
Babies of women who eat junk food in pregnancy are programmed to be addicted to a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
Women who eat junk food while pregnant are effectively programming their babies to be addicted to a high-fat and high-sugar diet by the time they are weaned, say researchers from the University of Adelaide (Australia). The study, led by Dr Beverly Mühlhäusler, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University's FOODplus Research Centre, is the first to show the effects of maternal junk food consumption at such an early stage in the offspring's life. The body produces opioids as a reward response to many factors, including intake of fat and sugar. These opioids stimulate the production of the "feel good" hormone dopamine, which produces a good feeling. Study results showed that the sensitivity of the opioid signaling pathway in offspring of junk-food fed rats was significantly lower than that in offspring of rats fed a standard rodent diet (control). This suggests that children born to a mother who ate a diet dominated by junk food during pregnancy would need to eat more fat and sugar to get the same good feeling, thus increasing their preference for junk food. "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," says Dr Mühlhäusler. Preliminary findings suggest that the alterations 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," concludes Dr Mühlhäusler.
Jessica R Gugusheff, Zhi Yi Ong, Beverly S Muhlhausler. A maternal "junk-food" diet reduces sensitivity to the opioid antagonist naloxone in offspring postweaning. FASEB J. 2013;27:1275-1184.