The pregnancy cravings they are something as common as surrounded by false myths. That if the unsatisfied cravings will be marked as a stain on the baby’s skin, that if the children inherit the cravings that their mothers had during pregnancy… There are all kinds of misconceptions about them. However, the real science on what causes these cravings for a particular type of food hasn’t been studied that much. Yes, there is some research, but many open questions remain. Questions that now have new answers thanks to a team of scientists from the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) of Barcelona whose work has just been published in Nature Metabolism.
His research focuses on two issues. On the one hand, they detect switch of the pregnancy cravings in it brain. That is, they have managed to find what brain regions undergo changes during gestation that are related to these eating patterns so marked. They have done in micebut they believe that it can be easily extrapolated to humans, since the neural circuits in these aspects are quite similar.
On the other hand, they have detected what changes occur in the offspring of the mice whose pregnancy cravings were satisfied. All this is important, because sometimes these cravings mean a worse diet in pregnant women, which can have long-term consequences on 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 to do so.
The origin of pregnancy cravings
The authors of this study measured the brain activity of female mice experiencing cravings in pregnancy.
Thus, they observed that numerous changes had taken place in his brain, many of them associated with the mesolimbic pathway. This means that some sort of rewiring had taken place in the reward systems.
These systems are those responsible for certain habits that generate pleasure. From the sex until the chocolategoing through all kinds of drugs. In principle, this brain system has brought us evolutionary advantages as a species. Basically, if we feel pleasure with sex we will do it more times and that is something necessary, because without sex the species would become extinct. The consumption of a steak produces a great pleasure, because it has a high calorie content. This means a lot Energy that our ancestors could use very well to flee from predators or carry out their daily tasks.
The problem is that substances that do not provide us with any benefit, such as cocaine, for example, also act on these systems. Other times the substances or habits that were initially innocuous stop generating an effect, so more and more is needed to achieve that longed-for pleasure. This is how addictions are born. Now, what does all this have to do with pregnancy cravings?
Basically, it seems that certain stimuli are very strongly linked to reward systems. As if it were a temporary addiction that only lasts 9 months of 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 that intense situation of pleasure. These effects are produced by its action on the nucleus accumbens, which is considered to be the control center for reward systems.
Effects on offspring
The second part of this study consisted of analyzing how it affects the offspring satisfaction of pregnancy cravings.
For this reason, they took mice that were given a normal diet during gestation and others that were I know they consented your wishes. Once they had the offspring, a follow-up was carried out on them and it was found that those of the second group had modifications both at the metabolic level and in its neuronal 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 incessantly, but because generally cravings do not come from eating lettuce. They are usually very fatty or very sugary foods. Basically because the reward systems, again, would be promoting a high energy contribution, but with some gaps in their operation.
For this reason, these scientists are committed to taking care of the diet of pregnant women, so that the cravings of pregnancy do not become a problem. In the long term, we could find a way to to turn off that brain switch that they have detected so that there are no cravings directly. But, until that is possible, it would suffice to satisfy them only once in a while, but without those foods that they want so much displacing other healthier ones from their diet. From here we can and do promise that the baby will not get a chocolate croissant-shaped birthmark.