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The Excess Weight of a Pregnant Woman Changes the Child's Brain, Threatening Its Mental Health

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  • The Excess Weight of a Pregnant Woman Changes the Child's Brain, Threatening Its Mental Health

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    What is the danger of excess weight of a mother during pregnancy for a child?

    Judging by the images of overweight "primitive Venus"," healthy " fatness once served as an indicator of physical and social well-being.

    However, today excess weight is becoming a problem: in industrialized countries, such as the United States, scientists are already talking about an epidemic of obesity.

    And this problem is not aesthetic or cosmetic, but rather medical – being overweight entails a string of negative health consequences.


    And not only for the person him/herself: as it turned out recently, the future mother's obesity directly affects the brain of the unborn child.


    Today we know that overweight is often accompanied by a number of serious diseases. People who are obese have an increased risk of developing and even dying from diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, etc.

    They are more likely to have mental health problems, including depression, neurodegenerative diseases, memory, and learning problems.

    It is proved that the excess weight of a pregnant woman affects her future children.

    For example, a child born to a mother with a body mass index (BMI – the ratio of body mass to the square of height) greater than 30, i.e. with grade I obesity, has a higher risk of physical, cognitive, and mental health disorders that are characteristic of obese people.

    The fetal brain is particularly vulnerable to harmful factors, which can include the excess weight of the expectant mother.


    In studies on laboratory animals, these embryos were marked by features of differentiation and maturation of nerve cells and changes in the work of genes in those areas of the brain that are involved in the functioning of the reward system and the implementation of cognitive functions.


    And these changes persist after birth. The reason can serve as an excess of nutrients, hormones, and inflammatory cytokines acting on the fetus, as well as the action of epigenetic ("supergenomic") mechanisms.


    But despite numerous studies on animals, the impact of maternal obesity on the intrauterine development of the human brain is not well understood.


    A new study, led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine of New York University, involved 109 women with a BMI of 25 to 47, at six to nine months of pregnancy.


    Using functional MRI, the researchers examined fetal brain activity and functional connections between groups of neurons.


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    As a result, two areas of the fetal brain were identified that were largely determined by the BMI of a pregnant woman: the prefrontal cortex, which plays a central role in cognitive control, including the management of eating behavior, and the anterior insula, which is involved in processing information related to food and appetite.

    These regions have long been of interest in the study of obesity, with changes in the prefrontal cortex documented in people with a high BMI.


    These results confirm that an overweight expectant mother is a risk factor for developing child mental health disorders.


    By the way, this also applies to underweight: for example, people born in the Netherlands during world war II, whose mothers starved during pregnancy, were more likely to develop depression and schizophrenic spectrum disorders in adulthood, and they also showed a stronger decline in mental abilities with age.

    The researchers plan to continue monitoring children born to participants in this study.

    The task for the future is to track changes in the weight of expectant mothers during pregnancy, the nature of their diet, and the level of certain substances in their body to specify the biological mechanisms of the harmful effects of maternal obesity on the fetal brain.
    Last edited by Elizabeth Dawson; 09-29-2020, 10:58 AM.

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