Summary: Mothers who eat high fat diets during pregnancy could be elevating the risk of future depression and anxiety symptoms for their children, a new study in Frontiers in Endocrinology reports. High fat diets may impair the development of the central serotonin system, researchers discovered. Further studies noted that introducing a healthy diet to the offspring at an early age did not reverse the effect.
Source: Oregon Health and Science University.
OHSU researchers first to document causal relationship in study of nonhuman primates.
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact on offspring behavior. The new study links an unhealthy diet during pregnancy to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression in children.
“Given the high level of dietary fat consumption and maternal obesity in developed nations, these findings have important implications for the mental health of future generations,” the researchers report.
The research was published today in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology.
The study, led by Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Division of Neuroscience at Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU, tested the effect of a maternal high-fat diet on nonhuman primates, tightly controlling their diet in a way that would be impossible in a human population. The study revealed behavioral changes in the offspring associated with impaired development of the central serotonin system in the brain. Further, it showed that introducing a healthy diet to the offspring at an early age failed to reverse the effect.
Previous observational studies in people correlated maternal obesity with a range of mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The new research demonstrates for the first time that a high-fat diet, increasingly common in the developed world, caused long-lasting mental health ramifications for the offspring of non-human primates.
In the United States, 64 percent of women of reproductive age are overweight and 35 percent are obese. The new study suggests that the U.S. obesity epidemic may be imposing transgenerational effects.
“It’s not about blaming the mother,” said Sullivan, senior author on the study. “It’s about educating pregnant women about the potential risks of a high-fat diet in pregnancy and empowering them and their families to make healthy choices by providing support. We also need to craft public policies that promote healthy lifestyles and diets.”
Researchers grouped a total of 65 female Japanese macaques into two groups, one given a high-fat diet and one a control diet during pregnancy. They subsequently measured and compared anxiety-like behavior among 135 offspring and found that both males and females exposed to a high-fat diet during pregnancy exhibited greater incidence of anxiety compared with those in the control group. The scientists also examined physiological differences between the two groups, finding that exposure to a high-fat diet during gestation and early in development impaired the development of neurons containing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s critical in developing brains.
The new findings suggest that diet is at least as important as genetic predisposition to neurodevelopmental disorders such as anxiety or depression, said an OHSU pediatric psychiatrist who was not involved in the research.
“I think it’s quite dramatic,” said Joel Nigg, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, and behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine. “A lot of people are going to be astonished to see that the maternal diet has this big of an effect on the behavior of the offspring. We’ve always looked at the link between obesity and physical diseases like heart disease, but this is really the clearest demonstration that it’s also affecting the brain.”
Sullivan and research assistant and first author Jacqueline Thompson said they believe the findings provide evidence that mobilizing public resources to provide healthy food and pre- and post-natal care to families of all socioeconomic classes could reduce mental health disorders in future generations.
“My hope is that increased public awareness about the origins of neuropsychiatric disorders can improve our identification and management of these conditions, both at an individual and societal level,” Thompson said.
Funding: This study was supported by grant Ro1MH107508R01 from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Murdock Charitable Trust, Murdock College Research Program for Life Science, grant number 2011273:HVP, Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute grant number UL1TR000128 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health. Grant number P51 OD011092 supported operation of ONPRC and the Imaging and Morphology Core and Endocrine Technologies Support Core.
Source: Erik Robinson – Oregon Health and Science University
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Exposure to a High-Fat Diet during Early Development Programs Behavior and Impairs the Central Serotonergic System in Juvenile Non-Human Primates” by Jacqueline R. Thompson, Jeanette C. Valleau, Ashley N. Barling, Juliana G. Franco, Madison DeCapo, Jennifer L. Bagley and Elinor L. Sullivan in Frontiers in Endocrinology. Published online July 21 2017 doi:10.3389/fendo.2017.00164
Exposure to a High-Fat Diet during Early Development Programs Behavior and Impairs the Central Serotonergic System in Juvenile Non-Human Primates
Perinatal exposure to maternal obesity and high-fat diet (HFD) consumption not only poses metabolic risks to offspring but also impacts brain development and mental health. Using a non-human primate model, we observed a persistent increase in anxiety in juvenile offspring exposed to a maternal HFD. Postweaning HFD consumption also increased anxiety and independently increased stereotypic behaviors. These behavioral changes were associated with modified cortisol stress response and impairments in the development of the central serotonin synthesis, with altered tryptophan hydroxylase-2 mRNA expression in the dorsal and median raphe. Postweaning HFD consumption decreased serotonergic immunoreactivity in area 10 of the prefrontal cortex. These results suggest that perinatal exposure to HFD consumption programs development of the brain and endocrine system, leading to behavioral impairments associated with mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders. Also, an early nutritional intervention (consumption of the control diet at weaning) was not sufficient to ameliorate many of the behavioral changes, such as increased anxiety, that were induced by maternal HFD consumption. Given the level of dietary fat consumption and maternal obesity in developed nations these findings have important implications for the mental health of future generations.
“Exposure to a High-Fat Diet during Early Development Programs Behavior and Impairs the Central Serotonergic System in Juvenile Non-Human Primates” by Jacqueline R. Thompson, Jeanette C. Valleau, Ashley N. Barling, Juliana G. Franco, Madison DeCapo, Jennifer L. Bagley and Elinor L. Sullivan in Frontiers in Endocrinology. Published online July 21 2017 doi:10.3389/fendo.2017.00164