A pregnant mother’s eating habits may influence her unborn child’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s, new research suggests.
Scientists found that offspring of mice fed a high fat diet were more likely as adults to experience impaired blood flow in the brain, a feature linked to the disease.
When the offspring were also fed a high-fat diet their brains became less able to rid themselves of harmful amyloid protein.
Accumulations of sticky beta amyloid protein in the brain are a key Alzheimer’s hallmark.
More work is needed but the study could have important implications for humans, the researchers believe.
Lead scientist Dr Cheryl Hawkes, from the University of Southampton, said: “Our preliminary findings suggest that mothers’ diets during pregnancy may have long-term effects on their children’s brains and vascular health.
“We still need to do more work to understand how our findings translate to humans, but we have known for some time that protecting mothers’ health during pregnancy can help lower the risk of health problems for their children.
“Our next step will be to investigate how our findings could relate to Alzheimer’s disease in people. We hope these results could provide a new lead for research to understand how to prevent the disease.”
The research was presented at the Alzheimer’s Research UK conference taking place in Oxford this week.
Dr Eric Karran, director of research at the charity, which funded the study, said: “It’s important to remember that this research is in mice, but these results add to existing evidence suggesting that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in later life is affected by our health earlier in life.
“This study goes one step further by suggesting that what happens in the womb may also be important. We’re pleased to have funded this research, which has shed new light on the complex picture of Alzheimer’s risk,” Dr Karran said.
“Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease and it’s likely that our risk is affected by a number of different genetic and environmental factors.
“Research to understand these factors can help equip us to take steps to prevent the disease, but in the meantime, evidence suggests we can lower our risk by eating a healthy, balanced diet, doing regular exercise, not smoking and keeping our blood pressure and weight in check.”