Well Being

Babies Born Addicted To Junk Food? It’s (Sort Of) A Thing

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The old adage that pregnant women are “eating for two” is so much truer than the pre- neuroscience-obsessed eras knew. A new study suggests moms-to-be can actually pass on a junk food “tolerance” to unborn children, setting them up for a lifetime of being less sensitive to opioids and needing more salty/sweet/fatty food than others to get the same feel-good response.

The research shows “the lasting effect” that a mother's diet has on her child's “lifelong food preferences and risk of metabolic disease,” said Beverly Muhlhausler, a researcher at Australia's University of Adelaide and lead author of the study. “Hopefully, this will encourage mothers to make healthier diet choices which will lead to healthier children.” 

Muhlhausler's research, published in the March 2013 issue of The FASEB Journal, suggests that moms who eat a high-sugar, high-fat diet during pregnancy can cause changes in the brains of unborn children that interfere with the development of the opioid signaling pathway. As a result, babies are born less sensitive to dopamine, the chemical that gets released when we eat modern junk food.

This higher dopamine tolerance means that the children may need to eat more junk food to feel the same pleasure surge others do on less. It seems like it could mean a lot of other things, too, since dopamine is released during all sorts pleasurable activities, not just eating.  But that remains to be seen; Muhlhausler's study was done in rats.

Regardless, some—like The FASEB Journal editor-in-chief Gerald Weissmann—are convinced. “This study shows that addiction to junk food is true addiction,” Weissman said. “Junk food engages the same body chemistry as opium, morphine or heroin. Sad to say, junk food during pregnancy turns the kids into junk food junkies.”

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