What is the Link between Pregnancy Stress and Obesity

Mothers-to-be may need to take up yoga or mediation to help curb the obesity epidemic in future generations. As reported in Science Daily, research undertaken at the University of Minnesota and Georgetown University, found evidence to show that women who are stressed, either physically or psychologically while pregnant, are more likely to produce children, particularly girls, who are predisposed to obesity in later life.

The research team conducted a two-tier study on pregnant mice and mouse embryonic stem cells to see whether stress had any effect on the behavior of a neurotransmitter in the brain called neuropeptide Y (NPY). NPY is associated with appetite stimulation and the growth and storage of fat cells.

The first study involved the pregnant mice who were fed a low-protein diet to trigger stress.This resulted in the stressed mice producing male and female offspring who were underweight. Next, researchers observed what happened to their weight when they were fed a high fat diet after weaning.

The researchers discovered that the female offspring of the stressed mice, grew faster and accumulated more abdominal fat than the male offspring. Furthermore, they found the female offspring developed an impaired glucose intolerance. These results led the researchers to believe that mothers who are stressed during pregnancy and while nursing, might make their female offspring predisposed to obesity. Why it is only the females who were affected isn’t clear. However, researcher, Ruijun Han, believes it may be because fatty tissue has a greater importance for females in producing offspring later on.

The second study involved exposing embryonic stem cells to excessive amounts of stress hormones. Again, researchers noticed an increase in the development of fat cells. Furthermore, they found that fat cells were more likely to grow than any other type of cell. This seems to indicate that DNA in the offspring of stressed mothers is programmed to develop into abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome. Researcher, Ruijun Han, said that the number of fat cells someone has before they reach their teens is a major determinant of their risk for obesity.

This latest research adds yet more weight to several studies indicating the negative implications of stress on the unborn baby. Some of these include a greater risk of suffering from autism, allergies or asthma. And, as published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), stress during pregnancy can affect brain development and temperament of the unborn baby. It’s also more likely to result in a pre-term birth or low birth weight.

Stress can be debilitating, affecting the mind, body and behavior. Therefore, it’s not surprising that stress can have such a negative impact on the health of the developing fetus. If further research on humans produces similar results to those shown in mice, then preventing stress during pregnancy could be prove to an effective weapon against developing obesity in later life.