Even before conception, a mother's breast milk and the health of her unborn child might be significantly impacted by a diet high in sugar and fat, such as burgers, fries, and carbonated beverages.
According to a recent study conducted on lab mice, even very brief exposure to a fast food diet adversely affects women’s health and decreases their capacity to produce healthful breast milk after giving birth. This may have an impact on the health of the newborn and raise the possibility that the mother and child would later develop potentially fatal diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
A diet high in processed foods, which are frequently high in fat and sugar, can cause even mothers who appear to be a healthy weight to have concealed health problems such a fatty liver, which can be seen in persons who are overweight or obese. Liver failure and extensive scarring (cirrhosis) may result from this.
Researchers from the Sferruzzi-Perri Lab at the Centre for Trophoblast Research at the University of Cambridge and the Department for the Promotion of the Health of Women and Newborns at the University of Chile in Santiago participated in the new findings, which were published in the journal Acta Physiologica.
Co-lead author Professor Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri, Professor in Fetal and Placental Physiology and a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, said: “Women eating diets that tend to have high sugar and high fat content may not realise what impact that might be having on their health, especially if there’s not an obvious change in their body weight. “They might have greater adiposity — higher levels of fat mass — which we know is a predictor of many health problems. That may not overtly impact on their ability to become pregnant, but could have consequences for the growth of the baby before birth, and the health and wellbeing of the baby after birth.”
It is already known that a “Western style” diet high in fat and sugar is a major cause of the rising body mass index (BMI) and obesity that is sweeping not just industrialised nations but also emerging countries that are urbanising, like Chile. A healthy pregnancy can be difficult to achieve and maintain in many cultures around the world since just over half of women (52.7%) are overweight or obese when they conceive.
In mice, obesity has previously been induced, but the majority of research focuses on the consequences of long-term, chronic high-fat, high-sugar diets. In this new study, mice were given a diet of processed high fat pellets with sweetened condensed milk for just three weeks prior to conception, for the three weeks of pregnancy, and for three weeks after delivery. The nutritional value of a fast food burger, fries, and sugary soft drink was mimicked by this diet. The goal was to ascertain the effects on foetus growth, fertility, and neonatal outcomes.
The researchers found that even a brief high fat, high sugar diet had an effect on the survival of the newborn mouse pups, with a higher mortality rate at the period when the mother was feeding her young. The quality of milk proteins was shown to be poor in mice mothers eating a high fat, high sugar diet, despite the fact that milk proteins are crucial for the development of newborns.
“We wanted to know what was going on, because the mothers looked okay, they weren’t large in terms of their size. But what we found was that although the mice seemed to have okay rates of getting pregnant, they did have greater amounts of adipose — fat tissue — in their body in and at the start of pregnancy,” said Professor Sferruzzi-Perri.
They developed fatty livers, which is extremely harmful for the mother, and the placenta’s development was disrupted. The fetus’s own weight was unaffected. They appeared lighter, but the difference was not great. But it was also clear that pregnancy impacted the fetus’s nutritional needs. Then, when we considered how the mother may be caring for the child after pregnancy, we discovered that the development of her mammary glands and the protein content of her milk had changed. This finding may have been the cause of the newborn pups’ more serious health issues.
Clinicians are frequently particularly concerned about the danger of diabetes and improper infant growth when a bigger pregnant lady presents. But in pregnant women who appear healthy, regardless of their diet, minor but potentially harmful changes in the body during pregnancy may go unnoticed.
“The striking part is that a short exposure to a diet from just before pregnancy that may not be noticeably changing a woman’s body size or body weight may still be having implications for the mother’s health, the unborn child and her ability to support the newborn later,” said Professor Sferruzzi-Perri.
We are learning a lot more about how crucial a mother’s diet is. The baby’s growth can be significantly impacted by the food you consume in the years leading up to or just before conception.
Before trying to conceive, throughout the pregnancy, and following, women should be informed about eating a good, balanced diet, according to Professor Sferruzzi-Perri. She also wants to see more personalised pregnancy assistance offered to women, even if they appear to be in good health. It’s important to eat well so that the mother can produce milk of high quality, which will help the baby grow and thrive.
Professor Sferruzzi-Perri worries that poverty and inequality may be obstacles to adopting a healthy and active lifestyle because fast, processed foods are frequently less expensive to purchase. She declared: “It is very expensive to get lean meat, fresh produce, and healthful foods. It is frequently simplest and least expensive to consume processed foods, which are frequently heavy in sugar and fat. Families who are already struggling to make ends meet are more prone to consume foods with low nutritional value as a result of rising living expenses since they have less money. “That can have implications not just on their health and wellbeing, but also the health and wellbeing of their child. We also know that this is not only in the immediate period after birth, as unhealthy diets can lead to a lifelong risk of diabetes and heart disease for the child in the longer term. So these diets can really create a continuum of negative health impacts, with implications for subsequent generations.”