A Mother’s Diet Can Protect Her Grandchildren’s Brains: Genetic model Study

Source : Monash University (August 3, 2023)

Mothers who eat apples and herbs in early pregnancy could be protecting the brain health of
their children and grandchildren, a Monash University study using genetic models has found.
The discovery is part of a project that found a mother’s diet can affect not just her child’s brain
but also those of her grandchildren.

Published in Nature Cell Biology, the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute study found
that certain foods could help protect against the deterioration of brain function.
More specifically, the study used roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans) as the genetic model
because many of their genes are also found conserved in humans, allowing insights into human

The researchers found that a molecule present in apples and herbs (basil, rosemary, thyme,
oregano, and sage) helped reduce the breakdown of communication cables needed for the brain
to work properly.

Senior author Professor Roger Pocock and his team were investigating nerve cells in the brain
that connect and communicate with each other through about 850,000 kilometres of cables
called axons. For axons to function and survive, essential materials need to be transported along
an internal structure that contains microtubules.

Professor Pocock explained that a malfunction that caused the axons to become fragile led to
brain dysfunction and neurodegeneration.
He said his team used a genetic model with fragile axons that break as animals age. “We asked
whether natural products found in the diet can stabilise these axons and prevent breakage,” he

“We identified a molecule found in apples and herbs (ursolic acid) that reduces axon fragility.
How? We found that ursolic acid causes a gene to turn on that makes a specific type of fat.
This particular fat also prevents axon fragility as animals age by improving axon transport and
therefore its overall health.”

Professor Pocock said this type of fat, known as a sphingolipid, had to travel from the mother’s
intestine, where food is digested, to eggs in the uterus for it to protect axons in the next
generation. He said while the results were promising, they still need to be confirmed in humans.
“This is the first time that a lipid/fat has been shown to be inherited,” he said. “Further, feeding
the mother the sphingolipid protects the axons of two subsequent generations. This means a
mother’s diet can affect not just their offspring’s brain but potentially subsequent generations.
Our work supports a healthy diet during pregnancy for optimal brain development and health.”

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