Mothers who cut down on meat-eating during pregnancy could be priming their unborn children from addiction in later life, a new study has found.
A study led by Joseph Hibbeln of the US National Institutes of Health has found an observational correlation between infrequent consumption of red meat, chicken and other meat products during pregnancy and increased risk of problematic alcohol, cigarette or cannabis use in their children.
Hibbeln and his colleagues found that children born to mothers who ate little or no meat during pregnancy had a higher risk of substance abuse. The researchers suggest that the link may involve variants of a gene that creates a protein used for a vitamin B12 transport.
They stress, however, that the study is observational only, so the results cannot be used to infer cause and effect.
If further study does find the relationship confirmed and vitamin B12 implicated, however, the scientists say that does not mean avoiding meat is a poor parenting choice.
“The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes recommendations for healthy vegetarian eating patterns,” says Hibbeln.
“Our study points to the need to investigate potential health impacts, and solutions, for some women who choose to restrict certain food categories during pregnancy.”
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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