Mothers have a big role to play in their child’s life. While nurturing them to become responsible adults is one of the big tasks she has to carry out, there is something else that is equally important. A women must take due care about her diet during pregnancy and lactation. According to Penn State College of Medicine researchers, a mother’s diet at this stage may prime offspring for weight gain and obesity later in life. The researchers looked at rats whose mothers consumed a high-fat diet and found that the offspring’s’ feeding controls and feelings of fullness did not function normally.
The findings of this study were published in the Journal of Physiology. It suggests that there are significant effects of maternal and perinatal diet on some of the regions that control feeding and satiety in the brain. How the maternal diet has an impact on these functions is still not understood.
Some previous researches on obesity have revealed that obesity compromises the neurocircuits that control how the stomach and intestine work to regulate how much one eat. The time around pregnancy and lactation is important in the development of these neurocircuits. It has been observed in both human and laboratory studies that the offspring of mothers who are obese or consume a high-fat diet during pregnancy are much more likely to be overweight and have weight-related problems such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease later in life.
For this new study, researchers experimented on rats. They fed one group of rats a high-fat diet during pregnancy and lactation. After weaning, their offspring were fed the same diet. Once the rats reached adolescence, the researchers measured their neural activity involved in energy balance and appetite regulation. The lead investigator Kirsteen Browning, associate professor of neural and behavioral sciences said that they looked at the circuits that relay information from the stomach and the small intestine to the brain and back to the stomach telling it how to work. It was found that parts of these reflexes were not functioning properly even before they saw obesity.
When a person is obese, the normal reflex mechanisms, which help limit the amount of food we eat, can malfunction and become less sensitive. Browning added that rats that were on the high-fat diet looked exactly the same as the control group rats in terms of weight, but their feeding reflexes were already showing signs of not functioning properly.
Browning remarked that it is high time we started taking the problem of obesity seriously. It doesn’t just have to do with food; brain is also playing a bigger role here. He also cautioned that obesity is a very complex disease that has many genetic and environmental factors playing important roles. So, it is not compulsory that women who ate a high fat diet during their pregnancy are going to have obese children and vice versa. It is just another risk factor.
An understanding of the biological mechanisms underpinning obesity could help stem the tide of obesity. The oversimplified rule of eat less and workout more to lose weight cannot work for everyone because there are other factors in play as well. It is important that we recognize the critical window during development that can have very long-term outcomes. One of such factors is attention to mothers’ health, wellbeing and diet.
Browning said that more research is needed to determine the precise perinatal timeframe within which feeding neurocircuits are vulnerable to unhealthy alteration. Also, whether these changes can be reversed once set into motion. Another important thing that needs to be tested is whether the fat content or the caloric load of the rats’ diet induced the changes. Hopefully, all these questions are going to be answered by Browning after further research.
Check this guide out for a safe and efficient way to exercise and have a proper diet during pregnancy.