News Trawl 13 – Mothers-to-be: Healthy Diets, Healthy Babies

Mothers-to-be diets Photo credit: MarioMancuso via Visual hunt / CC BY
Photo credit: MarioMancuso via Visual hunt / CC BY

What mothers-to-be eat impacts the health of their children. Research continues to underline this fundamental fact, with one recent study, reported in Nutraingredients, demonstrating the importance of a correct omega-3/omega-6 balance. Another suggests that children of obese women are more likely to be afflicted by major birth defects.

“We found that risks of major congenital malformations in offspring progressively increase with maternal overweight and severity of obesity,” the researchers wrote in medical journal BMJ. “Efforts should be made to encourage women of reproductive age to adopt a healthy lifestyle and to obtain a normal body weight before conception.”

Sticking with the obesity theme, new research finds that children born to women with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of obesity if their mothers eat lots of refined grains. And childhood obesity is also more likely if mother drinks lots of so-called ‘diet’ beverages in pregnancy, adding to the existing evidence that artificial sweeteners not only fail to help anyone lose weight, but may instead actually promote Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Fat Chance

Both animal and human studies indicate that obese mothers are also more likely to have children with autism, ADHD and related developmental conditions.

Maintaining optimum weight during pregnancy is important, but remains elusive. A recent study reported in The Guardian shows that 23% of pregnant women do not gain the recommended weight, and more than 50% gain too much. Of these – most of them in the West – 38% were overweight or obese.

The work represents “the largest contemporary international snapshot of women’s weight during pregnancy and its impact on their health and that of their baby, and on the healthcare system. It takes into account our more contemporary population of mothers who are increasingly entering pregnancy at an unhealthy weight and it covers the diversity of race across Europe, US and Asia”.

Photo credit: Anne Worner via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA
Photo credit: Anne Worner via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Of Mice and Women

The situation is possibly exacerbated by the discovery that prenatal stress results in binge eating – in mouse-based experiments, at least. Interestingly, mice on a methyl-balanced diet did not succumb to binge-eating, suggesting that non-invasive dietary interventions may be a solution to eating disorders.

However, as neurobiologist and study author Alon Chen emphasized, the research involved mice: “We found a balance, but it might not be the relevant balance for humans. This is something that needs to be tested…” he said.

But Chen hopes his work will help researchers understand the neurobiology behind eating disorders. “The general public is less aware of the fact that we are dealing with a very biological mechanism that changes a person”, he commented. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s only in the brain.’ And yes, it’s in the brain. It involves changes in your genes, in your epigenome, and your brain circuits.”

As changes go, that’s pretty fundamental!

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