Eating fruit during pregnancy boosts babies’ brain development

Summary: Eating a diet rich in fruits during pregnancy can help boost brain development in children. Infant rats born to mothers who had their diets supplemented with fruits performed significantly better on cognitive and memory tests than those whose mothers did not consume a diet enriched with fruits.

Source: University of Alberta

A followup to a University of Alberta study done in 2016 confirms that pregnant women who eat more fruit during pregnancy may be giving their babies’ cognitive development a boost.

“Our research followed up on results from the original CHILD Cohort Study, which found that fruit consumption in pregnant mothers influences infant measures of cognition up to one year after birth,” said U of A post-doctoral researcher in psychology Claire Scavuzzo, the co-lead author of the study.

“Although the findings from the (original) study were exciting, they could not establish that fruit consumption, rather than other factors, caused the improvements on infant cognition.”

To determine whether fruit was truly the factor influencing infant cognition, the scientists aimed to replicate the findings from the original study.

They found that infant rats born to mothers that had their diets supplemented with fruit juice performed significantly better on tests of memory—consistent with the previous study.

This shows a pregnant woman buying apples
Eating fruit during pregnancy helps improve babies’ cognitive development, according to a new study that confirms findings from similar research done in 2016. The image is adapted from the University of Alberta news release.

“Our findings replicated what was found in humans and fruit flies. In a controlled, isolated way, we were able to confirm a role for prenatal fruit exposure on the cognitive development of newborns,” explained Scavuzzo.

“We see this as especially valuable information for pregnant mothers, as this offers a non-pharmacological, dietary intervention to boost infant brain development.”

“The idea that nutrition may also impact mental health and cognition has only recently started to gain traction,” said co-lead author Rachel Ward-Flanagan. “People want to be able give their kids the best possible start in life, and from our findings, it seems that a diet enriched with fruit is a possible way to do so.”

A PhD student studying under the supervision of Clayton Dickson, Ward-Flanagan embarked on the followup study with Scavuzzo in collaboration with pediatrics professors Francois Bolduc and Piushkumar Mandhane.

Dickson, Scavuzzo, Ward-Flanagan and Bolduc are part of the U of A’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute. Bolduc and Mandhane, are both members of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute, which helped support the original study through funding provided by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and supporters of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women.

About this neuroscience research article

University of Alberta
Media Contacts:
Andrew Lyle – University of Alberta
Image Source:
The image is adapted from the University of Alberta news release.

Original Research: Open access
“Prenatal fruit juice exposure enhances memory consolidation in male post-weanling Sprague-Dawley rats”. Rachel Ward-Flanagan, Claire Scavuzzo, Piush J. Mandhane, Francois V. Bolduc, Clayton T. Dickson.
PLOS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0227938.


Prenatal fruit juice exposure enhances memory consolidation in male post-weanling Sprague-Dawley rats

Nutritional intake during gestation is known to impact health outcomes for progeny. Correlational evidence in humans suggests that increased fruit consumption of pregnant mothers enhances infant cognitive development. Moreover, wild-type Drosophila supplemented with a combination of orange and tomato juice showed robust enhancements in performance on an associative olfactory memory task. The current study aimed to experimentally test the effects of prenatal fruit juice exposure in a non-human, mammalian model of learning and memory.

Across three separate birth cohorts, pregnant rats were given access to diluted tomato and orange juice (N = 2 per cohort), with control rats (N = 2 per cohort) receiving only water, in addition to standard rodent chow, throughout the duration of gestation, ending at parturition. Following weaning, male offspring were tested for learning and memory in a spatial version of the circular water maze and an auditory-cued fear-conditioning task.

All pregnant rats increased fluid and food intake over the gestational period. Fruit juice-fed pregnant rats had increased fluid intake compared to control pregnant rats. When testing progeny, there were no effects of prenatal fruit juice on spatial learning, while it appeared to impair learning in fear conditioning relative to controls. However, we measured significant enhancements in both spatial memory and conditioned fear memory in the prenatal fruit-juice group compared to controls. Measures of vigilance, in response to the conditioned cue, were increased in prenatal fruit rats compared to controls, suggesting less generalized, and more adaptive, anxiety behaviours.

Our results corroborate the human and Drosophila findings of prenatal fruit effects on behaviour, specifically that prenatal fruit juice exposure may be beneficial for early-life memory consolidation in rats.

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