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Prenatal diet affects onset of puberty

The study was conducted in rats and results were presented on Monday June 16 at the Endocrine Society's 90th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Early puberty in girls is linked to a variety of health problems including obesity, insulin resistance, teenage depression, and breast cancer in adulthood, said Deborah Sloboda, PhD, lead author of the study from The Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

"Other research suggests that a combination of prenatal and postnatal influences in girls can affect the onset of menarche [menstruation]," Sloboda said.

In the study, Sloboda and colleagues fed pregnant rats either a high fat diet or a normal diet as a control throughout pregnancy and lactation.

The rats whose mothers ate a high fat diet had earlier onset puberty than those whose mothers ate a normal diet, the study showed.

The rats that ate a high fat diet after weaning also entered puberty early. But the combination of a high fat diet used both in pregnancy and during lactation did not make the early onset puberty earlier, Sloboda said.

"This might suggest that the fetal environment in high fat fed mothers plays a greater role in determining pubertal onset than childhood nutrition," she said.

Later in life, rats born to mothers who had a high fat prenatal diet had a higher amount of body fat than controls did, even if they ate a regular diet while young.

Increased levels of the ovarian hormone progesterone were also found in females whose mothers used a high fat diet during pregnancy.

"Maternal high-fat nutrition may influence reproductive maturation and reproductive capacity in adult offspring," Sloboda said.

By David Liu, PhD, and edited by Heather Kelley.
Jun 16, 2008 - 5:04:47 PM