Prenatal stress found to alter the developing brain: Children of stressed mothers are predisposed to binge eating in adolescence

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(Natural News) Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany have concluded that prenatal stress-induced binge eating is usually pre-programmed in the fetal brain. This prior programming, however, does not ensure the disorder; it only comes to such if some signals are triggered.

The researchers further discovered that it is possible to avoid prenatal stress-induced binge eating by eating properly in adolescence.

Binge eating is defined as the frequent episodes of eating large amounts of food in a short span of time. The habit is compulsive, with binge-eaters frequently saying that they seem not to be able to control their cravings. (Related: Binge Eating: Find Relief through Yoga Therapy.)

The patients will often be overweight and have a high propensity for high-risk diseases such as diabetes, heart disorder, and high blood pressure. People who binge eat are also more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem and are more susceptible to anxiety attacks.

The scientists used a mouse model to copy activation of the central stress response during late pregnancy. They then conducted a series of tests to ascertain if the offspring would be predisposed to binge-eating disorder in adolescence.

They discovered that the female offspring from the prenatally stressed mothers are more likely to imbibe binge eating behavior than the female offspring of unstressed mothers.

“We found that many molecules in the hypothalamus of the predisposed offspring were epigenetically different. However, this gestational programming does not always lead to binge eating. It needs to be triggered during adolescence and only then are the pre-existing alterations due to prenatal programming revealed,” says Mariana Schroeder, a postdoctoral fellow in the research group of Professor Alon Chen, head of the neurobiology department at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.


For his part, Chen says: “This study provides us with mechanistic evidence that prenatal programming underlies binge eating disorder. It also gives us some crucial insight into a much neglected field of research.”

Other effects of prenatal stress to the fetus

According to a new study, stress speeds up the growth of an unborn child if it happens during the start of a woman’s term, but slows down the growth of the baby if it happens towards the end.

“The idea is prenatal stress affects offspring in two different ways depending on the timing of the stressor during pregnancy – yielding different outcomes before birth, after birth, and after weaning,” Dr. Andreas Berghanel, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and lead author of the study, says.

Dr. Berghanel and his colleagues analyzed the growth rates of offspring who had low birth weights across 719 studies on 21 different species of mammals. They discovered that stress that occurred late in the pregnancy caused mothers to invest less energy in their child, which resulted in the slow growth of the fetus in the womb.

On the other hand, stress that occurred early during the pregnancy caused the fetus to be adjusted to deal with a reduced life expectancy. To make do, it settles into an accelerated pace of life in its early stages, thereby changing the toxic environment of the womb.

“These new results may bear some translational value for understanding why girls start their menstrual cycles earlier in poorer neighborhoods. We found stress during late gestation reduces offspring growth during dependence – resulting in a reduced body size throughout development – whereas stress during early gestation results in largely unaffected growth rates during dependence but accelerated growth and increased size after weaning,” Dr. Berghanel concluded.

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