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Consuming high-fat foods during pregnancy could have negative effects on offspring's mental health: Study

by John Raphael / Jul 22, 2017 11:17 AM EDT
A nine-month pregnant woman wearing white holds her belly.

High-fat diets are not good for pregnant women. A new study led by Oregon Health and Science University revealed that mothers who eat high-fat diets during their pregnancy have an increased risk of giving birth to a child with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

The study published in the journal Frontiers of Endocrinology showed that high -fat diet during pregnancy could negatively affect the development of the brain and endocrine system of the offspring. According to Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D., the senior author of the study, it was not about blaming the mother.

"It's about educating pregnant women about the potential risks of a high-fat diet in pregnancy and empowering them and their families to make healthy choices by providing support," Sullivan said in a press release from OHSU. "We also need to craft public policies that promote healthy lifestyles and diets."

Sullivan is an assistant professor in the Division of Neuroscience at Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU. For the study, she and her fellow researchers conducted an experiment using animal models.

A total of 64 female Japanese macaques were divided into two groups. The first group was given high-fat diet during their pregnancy, while the other group served as the control and received the normal diet.

The researchers then measured the compared anxiety-like behaviors among 135 offspring. Interestingly, the offspring exposed to high-fat diet during pregnancy were more likely to develop anxiety than those in the control group. The difference in the anxiety risk between the two groups was apparent regardless of the gender of the offspring.

Aside from greater incidence of anxiety, the researchers observed that exposure to high-fat diet during gestation and early in development results in impaired the development of neurons containing the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a crucial role in brain development.

Previous studies have been focusing on the relationship between maternal obesity and physical diseases like heart disease. This new study backs up past observational studies correlating high-fat diet during pregnancy and mental health problems in children.

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