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Research finds excessive vitamin intake in pregnant women could impact food choices in offspring

9 April 2015

Can mothers influence the food preferences of their kids by simply taking a high dose of fat soluble vitamins (HFS) when pregnant? Researchers from the University of Toronto have investigated this possibility and published their finding in the recent Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

It could be that nowadays pregnant women consume more vitamins than required because of high levels of supplement use, mandatory fortification of food and an increased use of health foods. However, little is known about the effect of high vitamin intake during pregnancy and more research is needed. The already existing evidence shows that the high multivitamin (HV) diet in pregnant rats may increase food intake, body weight and characteristics of the metabolic syndrome in male offspring. Sanchez-Hernandez and colleagues designed a study to test if vitamins A, D, E and K are responsible for the effects of HV. They studied two groups of rats. One group was fed a recommended multivitamin diet (all vitamins) and the other group a diet that provided vitamins A, D, E, and K in amounts ten times higher than recommended. The researchers then compared the offspring’s’ body weight, food intake, and preference as well as expression of selected genes in the brain at 3 different times: at birth, weaning, and 14 weeks post weaning. The data revealed that there was no change in body weight gain nor food intake, but preference for sweetness was decreased by 4% in baby rats whose mothers were given a high dose of fat soluble vitamins. Researchers explain that the vitamins may increase the expression of genes and regulatory pathways in the brain which may lead to lower preference for sweet foods. They showed that higher expression of dopamine signalling genes resulted in lower sucrose preference. 

Though the study broadens our understanding of the role of fat soluble vitamins  in brain development the authors warn that this is a first study of this kind and more work needs to be done. Furthermore, the study is not free from the limitations and most importantly it cannot be extrapolated to humans because our brains develop differently to rats’ brains.

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