New biological research may be relevant to the effects of a mother’s high-fat diet during pregnancy on the development of obesity in her children.
An animal study at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests that a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet causes oxidative stress—an excess of deleterious free radicals—during pregnancy, predisposing the offspring to obesity and diabetes. Feeding rats antioxidants before and during pregnancy completely prevented obesity and glucose intolerance in their offspring.
If the results in animals prove to be similar in humans, the research may have implications for reducing obesity rates in children. “We already know that there are critical periods during human development that influence the later development of obesity,” said senior author Rebecca A. Simmons, M.D., a neonatologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “This research suggests that if we can prevent inflammation and oxidative stress during pregnancy, we may lower the risk that a child will develop obesity.”
The study by Simmons and co-author Sarbattama Sen, M.D., was published in the December 2010 print edition of Diabetes.
Oxidative stress is a condition in which quantities of highly reactive oxygen-containing molecules (free radicals and other chemicals) exceed the body’s ability to control their biological damage to cells. It is already known that obesity in people contributes to oxidative stress, in part by causing inflammation. Furthermore, obesity during pregnancy creates an abnormal metabolic environment during human gestation.
The current study tested the hypothesis that a high-fat diet during pregnancy increases oxidative stress and leads to obesity in the offspring of animals. Simmons and Sen also investigated whether supplementing the animals’ diet with antioxidants would prevent obesity in the offspring.
The researchers simulated a Western-style diet by feeding high-fat, high-carbohydrate chow to
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Children's Hospital of Philadelphia