Rats on a high sugar diet during pregnancy have altered levels of sex steroid hormones (e.g. progesterone) and dopamine in their brains, which may lead to behavioural changes that can affect care of offspring and motivation, as well as increasing the risk of diabetes and liver disease, according to a study published in the Journal of Endocrinology.
In this study, Dr. Daniel Tobiansky and colleagues, working in the lab of Dr. Kiran Soma, a professor in the department of psychology, investigated the effects of a high sugar diet on hormone levels and markers of metabolic function in female rats.
Pregnant rats on a high sugar diet, equivalent to a typical Western diet, had increased progesterone levels, a hormone important for healthy pregnancy and lactation, and changes in the dopamine system, a neurotransmitter key in motivation, reward and mood. They also showed signs of prediabetes and fatty liver disease. The study findings suggest that sugar consumption during pregnancy may have serious, long-term health risks for the mental health of both mothers and pups, beyond the established risks for diabetes and heart disease.