baby coke

Watch those late-night Doritos and ice cream cravings, mama: a study from the FOODplus Research Centre at the School of Agriculture Food and Wine at The University of Adelaide, Australia suggests that pregnant women who eat junk food may be turning their unborn children into junk food junkies.

The study looked at how the opioid receptors in the brains of rats reacted when fed junk food. The opioid receptors in the brain receive pleasure and reward signals from chemicals like dopamine that are known to be released when people (and rats) eat foods high in fat and sugar.  The results suggest that children whose mothers eat junk food are born less sensitive to opioids, and therefore must eat more junk food to receive the same pleasure signals.

Some of the rats in the study were born of mothers who were fed a normal diet, and some were fed a human junk food diet.  Those whose mothers had eaten the regular diet stopped eating junk food when their opioid receptors were blocked; bascially, their brains no longer got the pleasure signal from eating the food, and they stopped. The pups whose mothers had been fed the junk food diet, however, didn’t stop eating the junk food, even when the pleasure signal was stopped, showing that they have a higher tolerance for the pleasure chemicals and have to eat more and more to get the same feeling of pleasure and reward.

“This study shows that addiction to junk food is true addiction.” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., editor in chief ofThe FASEB Journal where the study was published. “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.”

“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,” Beverly Muhlhausler, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work, said. “Hopefully, this will encourage mothers to make healthier diet choices which will lead to healthier children.”

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