We know that food cravings typically increase tenfold during pregnancy, but how are they triggered? New research in mice has identified the part of the brain that appears to control this habit change. In the future, this discovery could help make pregnancies healthier.
When testing pregnant mice, the researchers noticed changes in the brain’s reward circuitry, as well as areas responsible for taste, sensory and motor systems. In the mesolimbic pathway, which is responsible for releasing dopamine and rewarding the brain for its actions, the team identified higher levels of dopamine and increased dopamine D2R receptor activity in a region called the “nucleus.”
“This finding suggests that pregnancy induces a complete reorganization of mesolimbic neuronal circuits by D2R neurons. These neuronal cells and their modification would be responsible for the craving for food, since the fear of food typical of pregnancy disappeared after their activity was blocked. explained neurobiologist Roberta Haddad-Tóvolli from the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute in Spain.
Credit: Lucas Vasques
Although this study focused specifically on mice, the mouse brain and human brain have enough in common to make scientists wonder if the same type of response doesn’t occur when human mothers crave ice cream, chocolate, or other foods. Scientists believe that food cravings promote embryonic growth in a number of ways, but this can also lead to potential problems. In fact, this consumption of tasty and high-calorie foods can have detrimental effects on the health of babies and mothers.
The researchers then studied the offspring of mice that were allowed to indulge in sweet food cravings and found differences in the metabolism and neural circuits of this new generation. “These results are very surprising. Many previous studies in this area have focused on analyzing how maternal lifelong habits such as obesity, malnutrition or chronic stress affect the baby’s health. However, this shows that brief but recurring behaviors such as cravings are enough to increase babies’ psychological and metabolic vulnerability. said neurobiologist Marc Claret of the University of Barcelona in Spain.
Credit: mirhashemian amirli
Repeated food cravings cause health problems
In follow-up tests on the offspring of the mice, the team identified problems with weight gain, anxiety and eating disorders, among other things. It remains to be seen how this would translate to humans, but either way the signs are really not positive. The scientists behind the study hope their work can help develop effective nutritional recommendations for expectant mothers to ensure that the overall diet remains healthy and good for both mother and baby, even if they have cravings from time to time.
With a phenomenon like cravings during pregnancy, it is important to research as much as possible about the underlying causes, say the researchers. “There are many myths and popular beliefs about these food cravings, but the neural mechanisms that cause them are not well understood.” estimated Marc Claret.
Interesting, isn’t it?