AURORA, Colo. (December 1, 2010) A major new study shows that a pregnant mother's diet not only sensitizes the fetus to those smells and flavors, but physically changes the brain directly impacting what the infant eats and drinks in the future.
"This highlights the importance of eating a healthy diet and refraining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy and nursing," said Josephine Todrank, PhD, who conducted the two-year study while a visiting scientist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "If the mother drinks alcohol, her child may be more attracted to alcohol because the developing fetus "expects" that whatever comes from the mother must be safe. If she eats healthy food, the child will prefer healthy food."
Researchers studying mice found that the pups' sense of smell is changed by what their mothers eat, teaching them to like the flavors in her diet. At the same time, they found significant changes in the structure of the brain's olfactory glomeruli, which processes smells, because odors in the amniotic fluid affect how this system develops.
"This is the first study to address the changes in the brain that occur upon steady exposure to flavors in utero and early in postnatal life when the newborn is receiving milk from the mother," said Diego Restrepo, PhD, co-director of the Center for NeuroScience at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and sponsor of the study. "During these periods the pup is exposed to flavors found in the food the mom is eating."
The research, he said, could have important public health implications.
"Many diseases plaguing society involve excess consumption or avoidance of certain kinds of foods," said Restrepo, a professor of cell and developmental biology. "Understanding the factors that determine choice and ingestion, particularly the early factors, is important in designing strategies to enhance the health of the infant, child, and adult."
|Contact: David Kelly|
University of Colorado Denver