Expectant mothers might want to resist those late-night cravings for potato chips and ice cream. New research suggests women who eat junk food while pregnant may program their babies to be addicted to a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
Laboratory studies by researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia found that eating junk food during pregnancy and lactation desensitizes their children’s biological responses to sugary, fatty foods — essentially reprogramming their brains’ biological “reward centers” and predisposing them to crave such foods.
Lead researcher Bev Mühlhäusler, M.D., said the research — published in the FASEB Journal, published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology — is the first to show the effects of maternal junk food consumption at such an early stage in the offspring's life.
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The researchers noted opioids are chemicals produced by the body in response to fat and sugar that stimulate the production of the "feel good" hormone dopamine.
"We found that the opioid signaling pathway in these offspring was less sensitive than those whose mothers were eating a standard diet," Dr. Mühlhäusler said.
As a result, children born to a mother who eat diets dominated by junk food feel the need to eat more fat and sugar to get the same good feeling, 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," said Dr Mühlhäusler.
"Mothers eating a lot of junk food while pregnant are setting up their children to be addicted.”
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