Maternal Diet May Affect Stress Responses in Children

Maternal Diet May Affect Stress Responses in Children

“Maternal Diet May Affect Stress
Responses in Children” In a critique of the
scientific validity of the dietary advice in
Men’s Health magazine, they discovered nuggets
like this, claiming meat can give men
a testosterone boost, which we’ve known for
a quarter century that a meal with that much
fat drops testosterone levels nearly a third
within hours. In fact, a significant drop of
both free and bound testosterone in the bloodstream within
just an hour of it going in one’s mouth, whereas a low-fat meal of
mostly carbs has no such effect. Based on in-vitro studies
on the effects of fat on testicle cells in
a petri dish, they suspect fat in
the blood may actually suppress testosterone
production in real time. But even holding fat
levels the same, if you feed people
lots of meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, and
then switch them to a diet with about the
same amount of fat, but instead bread, fruit,
vegetables, and sugary junk, all their testosterone
levels go up, but even more importantly,
all their cortisol levels go down. Cortisol is a stress hormone
produced by our adrenal glands. Having low stress hormone
levels is a good thing, because high cortisol levels may
strongly predict cardiovascular death in men and women
both with and without preexisting cardiovascular disease. In fact, this may help explain
“death from a broken heart,” the heightened heart
attack and stroke risk in the immediate weeks
following losing a spouse. The higher cortisol levels, days,
months, or even years after losing someone you love
may increase cardiac risk, and reduce immune function. And you’ll note the rise in
stress hormone levels losing a spouse, a bump of about 50 points,
is less than the bump you may get eating a
high meat diet. Cortisol may also help explain
why those who are depressed tend to put on
abdominal fat. The reason obesity
around the middle is associated with elevated
cortisol secretion may be that abdominal fat kind
of sucks it up, and so the accumulation of fat
around our internal organs may be an adaptation by which
our body deals with excess stress. These spikes in stress hormone levels
every time we eat a lot of meat may not just affect
our health, but that of
our children. Substantial evidence
now suggests that high protein diets
during pregnancy has adverse effects
on the fetus. For example, back
in the 60’s, an experiment was performed on
pregnant women in Motherwell, Scotland, in which they were told
to eat a high meat diet in hopes of preventing preeclampsia,
a disease of pregnancy. It didn’t work. In fact, the lowest preeclampsia
rates I’ve ever seen were among women eating strictly
plant-based diets— only 1 case out of
775 pregnancies. Pre-eclampsia normally strikes
about 5% of pregnancies, so there should have
been dozens of cases, suggesting a plant-based diet
could alleviate most, if not all, of the signs and symptoms
of this potentially serious condition. But what did happen
when pregnant women went from eating about one
portion of meat a day to like two portions
of meat every day? Mothers who ate more meat and
fewer vegetables during pregnancy gave birth to children who grew
up to have higher blood pressures. One explanation for
the adverse effects of high meat and
fish consumption is that this may have increased
maternal cortisol concentrations, which, in turn, affected
the developing fetus, resetting his or her own stress hormone
thermostat to like a higher level. But, you don’t know until
you put it to the test. And indeed, researchers found
higher blood cortisol levels in both the sons and
daughters of women who had reported higher meat
and fish consumption, about a 5% increase for
every daily meat serving. Such diets may present a
metabolic stress to the mother and kind of reprogram the adrenal
axis of their children, leading to lifelong
hypercortisolemia, elevated levels of stress
hormones in the blood. This may help explain why
every daily portion of meat during late pregnancy may lead
to a 1% greater fat mass in their children by the
time they’ve reached adolescence. So this could increase
the risk of their children becoming obese
later in life, and so have important public
health implications in terms of prevention
of obesity. Now, if they’re
already born, you may be able to bring
down their stress hormone levels with similar dietary changes. But this is just baseline
stress hormone levels. Do children of mothers who
ate more meat during pregnancy also have exaggerated
responses to life stressors? Researchers put them through
a stressful challenge, public speaking,
mental arithmetic, and measured their
cortisol responses. If their moms ate less
than two servings of meat and fish a day
while she was carrying them they got little shots
of stress hormones from their adrenal glands. But those whose mom’s ate more
really got stress out, and those whose
moms ate the most— 17 or more servings a week, (that’s more than 2 servings
of meat a day) appeared to really be
quaking in their boots. So, in a way you are what
your mother ate during pregnancy.


  1. This guy is so biased, he's director of public health and animal agriculture at the humane society, don't believe a word he says.

  2. That this, "Meat makes you virile/healthy" idea persists, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, is amazing to me. The findings here do not surprise me, as they are evidenced in my family history. Thanks for posting, Doc!

  3. So your body creates fat around your midsection to sequester cortisol and deal with stress… Then the media tells you that you shouldn't have body fat around your midsection… which makes you more stressed. Yikes.

  4. "You are what your mother ate."  Well, you become a result of what she experienced in regard to stress via the discoveries made in the field of epigenetics.  The general rule is you are what your food ate all the way down to the quality of the soil microbes.

  5. It would be very interesting to pose the question: how many of those stressed out children are under treatment for ADHD?

  6. Would the offspring going on a vegan diet be able to reverse the heightened cortisol response? It is really disheartening knowing how much your parents may have screwed you over.

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