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Could a Pregnant Mom’s Diet Impact Child’s Drug Abuse?

Could a Pregnant Mom’s Diet Impact Child’s Drug Abuse?

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For all potential mothers, this is an interesting little tidbit of potentially useful research when it comes to being pregnant and trying to take care of yourself in the best possible way to promote positive health in your children.

Recently researchers at the Rockefeller University conducted a study with rats, where they determined a mother’s consumption of a fat-rich diet during pregnancy increases her offspring’s risk of a combined alcohol and nicotine abuse in adolescence.

So the question is, with people is the effect the same? Can a pregnant mother’s diet seriously impact the possibility of addiction in the children?

Substance Abuse Study

The study was performed at Rockefeller by Olga Karatayev in the Neurobiology Laboratory of Dr. Sarah Leibowitz. The information presented by this was collected in efforts to provide insight into early life factors that contribute to substance abuse, and the total results through the survey are set to be presented this week at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB).

It has been established through clinical studies there is a link present between alcohol abuse and nicotine use, and excessive drinking is commonly associated with greater smoking. For anyone who has ever been a drinker you probably notice this. Even people who don’t regularly smoke might have a few cigarettes while drinking alcohol.

The question initially presented was: what is contributing to this co-abuse of alcohol and nicotine that has become more evident in recent years?

Most animal studies of co-abuse combine oral consumption of alcohol with intravenous self-administration of nicotine, but Karatayev and Leibowitz developed a different approach that involves training the rats to press a lever to receive small infusions through an IV tube of either alcohol or nicotine alone, or of both in combination.

Fat Rats

The evidence created by the investigation revealed that when the mother of the rats had a diet consisting of high-fat foods it caused the offspring to treat the nicotine as more rewarding, especially when it was combined with alcohol, in comparison to the rat children of mothers eating a low-fat diet.

How did they reach this conclusion?

Well, the researchers changed the test, requiring the young rats to work progressively harder at pressing the lever to receive the drugs offered to them. Part of what they realized was 2 very interesting things:

  1. Fat-exposed rats kept working to obtain the next dose after the control rats gave up
  2. Fat-exposed rats also took significantly larger amounts of the alcohol plus nicotine mixture than of nicotine alone, an effect not evident in the low-fat control condition

This study is the very first time that exposure to a fat-rich diet in utero has been demonstrated to create greater susceptibility to the excessive abuse of alcohol and nicotine during adolescence. If this research stay consistent with people, does that mean human mothers avoiding fatty foods could help protect their children from drug or alcohol abuse?

Diet and Other Drugs

Similar studies at Rockefeller laboratory have led Karatayev and Leibowitz to propose how changes to specific brain systems during development could be what establish the link between maternal fat consumption and adolescents’ alcohol and nicotine abuse.

What appears to be a factor in this theory is a class of chemical signals called neuropeptides, which ordinarily act in the hypothalamus region of the brain to promote food intake. As it stands data suggests these chemical signals in also promote drug-seeking as well.

The neuropeptides stimulated by fat intake in adult animals are similarly responsive in the embryo, so fat exposure in the parents increases the growth of more neurons in these specific brain areas, which creates a long-lasting increase in levels and activity of the chemicals during adolescence that are likely to increase the risk for drug abuse.

Basically, the hypothesis behind this says by eating excessive high-fat foods during pregnancy a mother is conditioning the unborn child’s brain to chemically crave the same level of stimulation, which it often finds in excessive alcohol or drug use. For human mothers this has yet to be examined and proven, but still the idea doesn’t sounds beyond any reasoning considering the science supporting it.

Only further research can truly tell us what kind of real threat a diet can present to drug abuse in children, but the idea is a very interesting one. Could resisting fat for 9 months give your child a better chance later in life with resisting the urge to use?

As a parent people always want to protect their children, and some parents would take all the blame for a child’s issues with addiction, but you should focus on what is most important; getting your child the help they need to save their life. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588


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