It’s no secret that healthy nutrition during pregnancy plays an important role for both the mother and her unborn child, and that the food a pregnant woman eats has a direct impact on the baby. Recent research suggests that a high-fat diet during pregnancy affects the infant’s brain and increases susceptibility to neurological disorders such as autism and depression by disrupting communication between the placenta and the fetal brain. And: Male offspring seem to be more affected than females.
Animal Study: High-Fat Diet During Pregnancy Affects Males More
Scientists from Duke University in the US studied pregnant rats on a high-fat diet. To determine depressive behavior in the rodents, their craving for sugary water was examined. Rats generally prefer this water to regular tap water. As part of their research, the experts found that males born to mothers fed a high-fat diet did not prefer plain syrup to tap water. However, this was not the case for the female offspring.
Less Serotonin in the Male Brain Increases the Risk of Depression
This behavior of the male rats suggested depression, leading the scientists to conclude that the mother’s diet during pregnancy may have altered the brains of the male offspring during development. They found that a high-fat diet causes the immune cells in the developing brains of male offspring to overproduce the substance serotonin, which triggers depressive behavior. The researchers also found that male rodents born to high-fat mothers had lower levels of serotonin in their brains both in the womb and later in life, which can have lifelong consequences. Endotoxin levels in the baby’s placenta and developing brain also increased. Endotoxins are toxins from the intestinal tract that are formed by bacteria and can have harmful effects in the body. This research suggests that a high-fat diet increases the risk of developing endotoxemia. How fat crosses the placental barrier remains a mystery, but scientists believe endotoxins could play a role.
What does that Mean for Humans?
Even if this research showed amazing results, the question is, if these studies can also be applied to humans. The scientists were able to confirm this by examining the human placenta and fetal brain tissue from an earlier study. They realized that the more fat found in human placental tissue, the lower the levels of serotonin in the brains of men but not women. These results are intriguing and very important, as they could help to better understand mood disorders and create more effective treatment and prevention options in the future.
Prioritize Healthy Eating
While these studies are instructive, it’s important for pregnant women not to panic and eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. Avoid consuming trans fats and saturated fats, and instead reach for foods that provide omega-3, such as nuts, fish, and avocado. Limit your sugar intake and include plenty of protein in your daily diet.