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HomeClinical TrialsPre-Clinical ResearchCould unhealthy maternal diets during pregnancy lead to overeating in children?

Could unhealthy maternal diets during pregnancy lead to overeating in children?

A new study published in Communications Biology identifies how maternal consumption of a high omega-6/low omega-3diet during pregnancy increases compulsive eating behaviors in the offspring.

Over the past century an increase in high-fat diet trends has served as a precursor to the development of obesity-provoking disorders such as diabetes. Omega-6 (n-6) and omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids, classified as “bad” and “good” fats, are not naturally produced by the body and can only be obtained via diet. In the last several decades, increase in fast-food availability has resulted in unbalanced n-6/n-3 diet ratios. To provide more insight into the global incidence of diabetes, researchers at Hiroshima University discovered that maternal consumption of a high n-6/low n-3 diet caused hedonic, or compulsive, eating behavior in offspring.

The study consisted of feeding female mice with either a high n-6/low n-3 or a standard control diet. Feeding began prior to mating, was continued throughout pregnancy and lactation, and given to the offspring after weaning. After 12 hours of water deprivation, the animal’s behavioral response to each diet was measured through the motivation to obtain sugar-containing solutions. Following, the researchers tested high-sugar versus high-fat diets to determine whether the eating behavior was specific to sugar.

It is known that eating palatable foods increases the release of dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens (NAc)- a region in the forebrain. To further test this, dopamine levels were measured in the NAc pre, during, and post access to water or sugar solutions. Dopamine-producing neurons develop during embryo formation, thus the induction of compulsive eating behavior was assessed at various stages of development: conception to gestation, birth to weaning, and after weaning. Water intake, sugar intake, and dopaminergic neuron levels were all measured in the mice.

Maternal intake of increased high n-6/low n-3 ratio diets leads to indulgent food-eating behaviors by increasing dopamine levels in the NAc region of the brain.

The researchers concluded that the high n-6/low n-3fed group consumed more sugar solutions both after 12-hour water deprivation and ad libitum. They also exhibited significant behavioral desires to press a lever releasing the sugary drinks. The high n-6/low n-3 group gained greater amounts of weight albeit daily food intake was similar between all animals. Within the high n-6/low n-3 group, no difference between high-fat and high-sugar diets were reported—both were equally consumed in greater amounts as compared to the control. Neurological analysis further identified higher amounts of dopamine in the dialysate of the high n-6/low n-3group. Further, mice exposed to maternal high-fat diets in the womb demonstrated the greatest increase in sugar solution consumption.

Modern society has adopted maladaptive feeding practices consisting of high amounts of n-6 in the diet. As a result, diseases such as diabetes have reached epidemic proportions creating a growing health crisis. The research findings are profound as they suggest a way to reduce the risk of obesity in future generations.

Reference: Sakayori, N., Katakura, M., Hamazaki, K., Higuchi, O., Fujii, K., Fukabori, R., . . . Kobayashi, K. (2020). Maternal dietary imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids triggers the offspring’s overeating in mice. Communications Biology, 3(1). doi:10.1038/s42003-020-01209-4

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Melody Sayrany MSc
Melody Sayrany MSc
Melody Sayrany is a seasoned science writer with a host of experiences in cancer, neuroscience, aging, and metabolism research. She completed her BSc at The University of California, San Diego, and her MSc in biology, focusing on metabolic diseases during aging, at the University of British Columbia. Melody is passionate about science communication, and she aims to bridge the gap between complex scientific concepts and the broader community through compelling storytelling.
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