The pregnancy cravings they are something as common as shrouded in false myths. That if unfulfilled cravings will be a stain on the baby’s skin, that if children inherit cravings that their mothers had during pregnancy… There are all kinds of misconceptions about them. However, the real science behind what causes these cravings for a particular type of food has not been studied much. Yes, there is research, but many open questions remain. Questions that now have new answers thanks to a team of scientists from August Pi i Sunyer Institute for Biomedical Research (IDIBAPS) of Barcelona whose work has just been published in Natural metabolism.
His research focuses on two questions. On the one hand, they detect light switch from pregnancy cravings in the brain. That is to say, they managed to find this brain regions undergo changes during gestation that are related to these eating habits so marked. They did In micebut they believe this can be easily extrapolated to humans, as the neural circuits of these aspects are quite similar.
On the other hand, they detected what changes occur in the offspring mice whose pregnancy cravings have been satisfied. All of this is important, because sometimes these cravings mean poorer nutrition for pregnant women, which can have long-term consequences for their children. If it is detected in which part of the brain these desires arise, you can try to turn them off, in order to avoid these effects. There is still a long way to go to be able to extrapolate it to humans, but its results encourage us.
The origin of pregnancy cravings
The authors of this study measured the brain activity of female mice experiencing food cravings during pregnancy.
Thus, they observed that many changes had taken place in his brain, many of which were associated with the mesolimbic pathway. This means that some sort of rewiring has taken place in the reward systems.
These systems are those responsible for certain habits that generate pleasure. Since sex until Chocolategoing through all kinds of drugs. In principle, this brain system has brought evolutionary advantages to us as a species. Basically, if we feel pleasure with sex, we will do it more times and it is something necessary, because without sex the species would become extinct. Eating a steak gives great pleasure, as it has a high calorie content. It means a lot energy which our ancestors could very well use to escape predators or carry out their daily tasks.
The problem is that substances that do not bring us any benefit, such as cocaine for example, also act on these systems. Other times, substances or habits that were initially harmless stop having an effect, so more and more are needed to achieve that much-desired pleasure. This is how addictions are born. Now, what does all of this have to do with pregnancy cravings?
Basically, it seems that certain stimuli are very strongly linked to reward systems. Like it’s a temporary addiction that only lasts 9 months gestation.
These scientists saw it because higher levels of dopamine and there was increased activity in the D2R receptor of the nucleus accumbens. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is linked to this situation of intense pleasure. These effects are produced by its action on the nucleus accumbens, considered the control center of the reward systems.
Effects on offspring
The second part of this study consisted in analyzing how it affects the offspring satisfaction of pregnancy cravings.
For this reason, they took mice that received a normal diet during gestation and others that were I know they consented your wishes. Once they had the offspring, a follow-up was done on them and it was found that those in the second group had changes both at the metabolic level and in its neural circuits.
They believe that in humans, this could lead to the children of these pregnant women being more likely to develop eating disorders, obesity or anxiety, among other problems. But not for the simple fact that their mothers wanted to eat the same thing over and over again, but because cravings usually don’t come from eating lettuce. They used to be very fatty or very sugary foods. Basically because reward systems, again, would promote high energy intake, but with some shortcomings in how they work.
For this reason, these scientists are committed to taking care of the diet of pregnant women, so that pregnancy cravings do not become a problem. In the long term, we might find a way to to extinguish this brain switch that they detected so that there are no cravings directly. But, until this is possible, it would suffice to satisfy them only once in a while, but without these foods that they so desire replacing other healthier foods in their diet. From there, we can and promise the baby won’t have a chocolate crescent shaped birthmark.