A recent French study has shown that how female rats diet while pregnant can affect the brain reward circuitry of their offspring. Further studies are needed to reproduce these results in humans, but there’s no harm in being careful!
According to this French study, rats that were given a diet of high fats and high sugars – called the “Western Diet” - throughout their pregnancy had larger pips that had a strong preference of fatty foods after breastfeeding. After being fed balanced diets throughout their childhood, the pups showed a reduced desire for fatty foods and eventually had a similar desire for fat as their balanced diet counterparts.
The Western Diet rats, however, showed an altered reward circuitry in their adulthood. The researchers found alterations in the hypothalamus as well as in the gene expressions of GABA- an important neurotransmitter.
"Previous studies have shown that when pups from Western Diet mothers have unlimited access to junk food they maintain their preference for fatty food into adolescence," said Vincent Paillé, one of the researches. "While the pups from Western Diet mothers in our study showed extensive changes in their reward circuitry, a balanced diet in childhood seemed to protect them from an increased fat preference at adolescence."
"How these altered reward circuits integrate information could be different, and these pups might behave differently under stress or when they have free access to fatty food," says Paillé.