Eating too much sugar during pregnancy can damage the brain of unborn children by decreasing cognitive abilities related to memory and learning, warns US researchers.
This new American study confirms the deleterious effects of an unbalanced diet during pregnancy on the health of the unborn child. Work published on April 17th in the medical journal The Lancet showed the importance of a healthy lifestyle for parents before and during conception to prevent chronic diseases (diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, asthma) in their children later in life.
This new work followed 1234 pregnant women, aged 32 years on average between 1999 and 2002 and specifically targeted the impact of sugar (sucrose and fructose) on the brains of children at the age of 3 and 7.
Researchers evaluated the effects of eating high-fructose corn syrup, drinks containing added sugars — of which Americans are particularly fond — light sodas and fruits in children. The pregnant women in the study consumed an average of 49.8 grams of white sugar (sucrose) per day.
The results show significant damage to the cognitive functioning of children. Higher amounts of sugar consumed by their mothers during pregnancy, especially sugary drinks, have been associated with language problems, inabilities to solve new problems and lower hearing memory. In addition, researchers noted a “poorer” overall intelligence in terms of both vocabulary and nonverbal skills.
The study participants who drank the most sugary drinks consumed an average of 1.8 per day compared to 0.6 for the less adept women.
Regarding the consumption of low-fat sugars in mothers, the study shows an association with low motor skills and ineffective visio-spatial abilities in the younger children and a language level below the age of 7 years.
In children, the consumption of sugary drinks was associated with a verbal intelligence of less than 7 years, while fruit consumption contributed to a higher cognitive level in different domains and a better understanding of language. On average, the children in the study consumed 30 grams per day at 3 years.
Unlike whole fruits, fruit juices have shown no benefit on the brain development of children. The authors of the study suggest that the benefits of fruit would not come from the fructose they naturally contain but from their phytonutrients.