Your Brain is What You (and Your Mother) Eat

There have been lots of studies showing that kids are more likely to be overweight or “sugar-holics” if their parents, particularly their mothers, are.

Mother's diet affect children's brains with neuroplasticity

Many of these studies have based their conclusions on the role that mothers play in selecting foods for the household and in building awareness (or the lack thereof) of good nutrition in their kids.

A new study takes a different perspective, suggesting that the food that women ingest while pregnant and lactating helps to determine neural pathways and later eating habits.

Beverly Muhlhausler, Ph.D., from the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia led the investigation into the effect that junk-food intake has on the brain of the developing fetus and infant.

Muhlhausler et al. divided pregnant mice into two groups, with the control group receiving normal mice chow and the experimental group receiving a junk food diet high in fats and sugars.

After weaning, the baby mice were then allowed to choose the type of food that they wanted.

neuroplasticity affects mice's food preferences

The mice whose mothers had ingested the junk-food diet were more likely to choose the junky diet over those babies whose mothers had eaten the healthier diet.

The brains of the baby mice from the experimental group also had higher levels of the receptor for opioids than the babies from the control group, suggesting that the high fat and high sugar diet leads to changes in the fetal brain’s reward pathway, altering food preferences.

You can find the entire study in the new issue of The FASEB Journal.

What does this mean for us?

Well, I would like to blame my addiction to chocolate-covered ginger on my mother, but that wouldn’t be totally fair.

Mothers may influence our brains during our developmental stages, but we now know that we can still influence our brain structure later on.

New research in neuroscience is showing that while our brains may have developed in a less than ideal manner, we can apply neuroplastic principles to help re-develop our brains.

NICABM has created a new teleseminar series, The New Brain Science Series, in order to relay some of these exciting findings.

Each webinar we interview a new expert, discussing the new work being done and how it can be applied in the clinical setting.

For more information on the series, click here.

Do any of the people you work with battle sugar or fat addiction? How have you addressed these issues?

Please leave a comment below.

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10 Comments

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  2. Cecille Lion says:

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  3. Katherine Miculka says:

    To my knowledge, the studies have looked at early infant response only. The J. Mennella study tested infant response at 6 months. There has been no attempt in the studies themselves to correlate to any other ages in the offspring. So their results do not attempt to explain food choices of 8 or 10 or 17 year olds. By then, infinite other factors have already come into play.

    My personal experience would appear to demonstrate that the fetus can impact a mother’s food choices. I prefer vegetables over fruit. I could easily live without fruit if you gave me all the variety of veggies I love. However, during my pregnancy, I could not eat enough fruit…pounds of it every week and every kind I could find. After delivery, all my cravings for fruit disappeared. And my new daughter as she grew wanted lots of fruit everyday and still would choose it over just about anything else.(She’s almost 23)

    I so enjoy that there will always be that which we are not aware of…….YET!

  4. I am listening into your 2011 neuroplasticity series and so greatful to be able to access this from la belle France. Thank you.

    Your latest article about the link between foods consumed by the pregnant/lactating mother and subsequent food choices in offspring piqued my interest.

    My two children run against these findings in mice. My firstborn (son)received the ‘best’ of prenatal nutrition and relished my breastmilk (again only the best ingredients ingested by me). Certainly no sugar or junk carbs. Until he was about 4 he hated anything sweet, but now he loves chocolate and other ‘no-no’s’.

    My daughter was conceived just after my father had a massive stroke and I had far less attention on what I consumed. Indeed if I am honest, I engaged in some ‘comfort eating’ during that time and she was exposed to nutritional rubbish. Amazingly, she is now 17 and she has never had a sweet / junkfood tooth. She genuinely doesn’t like it.

    In my view we need to be extremely cautious about drawing cause-effect conclusions here. Humans are extremely complex and so is the society they live in. My uneducated guess is that these things are multi-factorial. No single cause will lie behind good/bad eating habits. Not prenatal food choices, not parenting style alone either. I predict that prenatal choices in food intake will prove to be mildly correlated with later tastes in food in offspring.

    Life is unpredictable. For example I choose to return to the most beautiful location in Ireland (the Ring of Kerry, with breathtaking views of the Atlantic, we bought a house on the sea-front, and majestic 500 million year old mountains as a backdrop) to rear my children. It was a conscious choice – to give them the best nature could offer. Unpredictably, we moved to a built-up area (at their insistence) when they were 16 and 15. Now our dream home is for sale (www.scarthouse.com) and my husband and I are adapting happily to a new culture, new language, yes and pretty great food too!

    Thanks for letting me air my views! Adieu, Claire

  5. Thanks for a great article. There is another aspect to this that is so important which is that this can create a predisposition in the child for inflammation-related learning, behavior and mood disorders. If the pregnant mother eats foods that create inflammation in the body and brain, and if this then becomes the child’s eating habits,this could predispose these children to all kinds of disorders triggered by inflammation. I teach about this in my program, Parents Take Charge!

  6. C J Johnson says:

    I am living proof of the theory, plus I believe our unborn child influences our cravings or dislikes. I loved scrambled eggs until I got pregnant, then I couldn’t stand the sight of them until after my son was born. Growing up he hated scrambled eggs.

    I write about this in my book, Wombology: healing the primordial memories and wounds your grandmother’s daughter gave to you. You will also find stories about adoptees in the book that is what got me interested in the theory back in 2002.

  7. Lauren Carlson-Vohs says:

    Very interesting. I’ve suspected this all along as the mother of two internationally adopted daughters. My oldest daughter (adopted from China) has a strong preference for Asian food and my youngest daughter (adopted from Guatemala) loves Mexican food. I have heard similar stories from other adoptive families.

    Surely there are many other deep connections established in utero. One of the more interesting ones I’ve heard discussed pertains to why many adoptive children will go to great ends to find their birth mother, but the drive to find their birth father is usually not nearly as strong.

  8. Summer says:

    Thank you for posting this article, I just linked to you in my blog. Hope you don’t mind!

    As a mom, my biggest frustration is the daily battles our family faces with the presence of sugar in society. My passion is eating healthy, but it is often met with resistance by others who are literally offended by my choice to feed healthy food to my kids.

    I look forward to your series and learning more about the links between of brain and food!

  9. Sue Hannibal says:

    Today ABC Good Morning America ran a report on food addicts, vs overeaters. Research showed that areas of the brain connected to addictive cravings “lit up” when the food addict was shown a picture of their favorite food. That’s why food addicts, like other addicts, are helpless when craving their drug of choice. A book by Ron Ruden, MD, Ph.D, called “The Craving Brain” explains in detail.

  10. don hall says:

    Study would be considered biased (in my opinion).
    “Imprinting” of food choices is controversial to say the least.

    Study Scope:
    Foods ingested high in sugar / junk food content appears as the food of choice in American diets, including coffee, cola and fast (read salty/greasy/high fat content)food.
    How could such imprint be “proven” is beyond me (maybe not saying much) however, mere environmental / family / peer influence would be my choice of influence factors rather than brain “learning”.

    Americans consume (at my last count) more drugs than any civilization on the planet … and growing. The drug of choice? Pills!! Over age fifty the pharm. count is avg.3pills day, over sixty, (12-15),I might add that over sixty the almost useless “All Purpose” vitamin appears in approx. 40% of the female “protect my bones and stabilize my hormones” plan. (to date no study absolutely verifies the value of vitamin of the “all in one” value proposed by a vitamin – unless recently.) vitamin D is making headlines, but PLEASE REVIEW DR.TREAVOR MARSHALL Vit.D research. absolutely validates the need for the Seco-steroid hormone, “vit.D”, very key to good health, HOWEVER the sun supplies most of us, 15min. day, plenty of natural sun Vit.D!

    OK, guys, fire away.
    don hall / bearcreekresearch
    http://life-onpurpose.weebly.com
    dr_hall@live.com

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