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Pregnant Moms Who Eat Unhealthily Risk Turning Their Babies into "Junk Food Addicts", Study

Update Date: Feb 28, 2013 02:44 PM EST

One of the great things about being pregnant is that you can eat whatever you want right? Bring on all the fries, burgers, milk shakes and pizzas in the world because you're eating for two now.  Wrong.

A new study reveals that staying on a healthy diet is even more critical during pregnancy because pregnant mothers who eat a lot of unhealthy food can actually turn their babies into "junk food addicts" before they are even born.

The findings, published in the March edition of The FASEB Journal, eating junk food in pregnancy can actually lead to changes in the development of the opioid signaling pathway in the brains of fetuses.  Researchers explained that the change could result in babies being born with less sensitivity to opioids, which are released when people eat foods that are high in fat in sugar.  Therefore, children born to mothers who ate junk food during pregnancy may end up having a higher "tolerance" for junk food and will need to eat more of it to achieve the same "feel good" response as children whose mothers ate healthy foods during pregnancy.

For the study, Australian researchers studied the pups of two groups of rats.  Researchers said that one of the groups had been fed normal rat food and the other group had been fed human "junk foods" during pregnancy and lactation.

Researchers said that after weaning, the baby rats were given daily injections of an opioid receptor blocker, which blocks opioid signaling.  Researchers explained that blocking opiod signaling lowers the intake of fat and sugar by preventing the brain from releasing dopamine. 

The findings revealed that the opiod receptor blocker was less effective at reducing fat and sugar intake in baby rats whose mothers were fed junk food, leading researchers to suggest that the opiod signaling pathway in junk food offspring is less sensitive than for offspring whose mothers were on a standard rat diet.

"The results of this research will ultimately allow us to better inform pregnant women about the lasting effect their diet has on the development of their child's lifelong good preferences and risk of metabolic disease," researcher Beverly Muhlhausler, Ph.D., from the FOODplus Research Center at the School of Agriculture Food and Wine at The University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia, said in a news release.

Researchers hope the latest findings will convince mothers to make healthier diet choices, which they stress, will lead to healthier children.

"This study shows that addiction to junk food is true addiction." Dr. Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal said in a news release. "Junk food engages the same body chemistry as opium, morphine or heroin. Sad to say, junk food during pregnancy turns the kids into junk food junkies."

Earlier in the month, another group of researchers found that foods eaten by expectant and breastfeeding mothers play an important role in shaping a child's palate.  US researchers found that children whose mothers frequently ate fruit and vegetables were significantly more open to eating their five-a-days after weaning. 

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