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‘Eat for two’ pregnancy myth debunked

Posted:  Tuesday, August 04, 2015

No need to eat for two during pregnancy! A latest study has found that in response to pregnancy, the woman’s body evolves to absorb higher amounts of energy from the same amount of food. This finding dispels the myth of eating for two during pregnancy.

Published in eLife, the study was conducted at the Medical Research Council's Clinical Sciences Centre (Imperial College London). The researchers studied fruit flies as they share many common genes with humans. Also, they have the same mechanism of fat utilisation and storage and similar hormones controlling their metabolism.

The researchers discovered that in fruit flies, a drastic intestinal growth and increased body storage of fat was stimulated by a hormone released after fertilisation which explains the previous research findings of intestinal growth during pregnancy in mammals. This hormone known as ‘juvenile hormone’ is akin to human thyroid hormones in action and regulates the body’s energy demands.

It is commonly believed that a woman’s appetite adapts to the foetus’ increasing energy demands, but this study revealed that juvenile hormone levels rise immediately after mating. This signals the intestine to adapt and prepare in order to meet the energy demands of the fertilised eggs. If the hormone level does not return to normal post pregnancy, in humans it results in a large intestine and consequently high energy absorption.

Dr. Irene Miguel-Aliaga, Head of the Gut Signalling and Metabolism Group at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre and lead author of the study, said: "Previous studies have shown that eating for two during early pregnancy is unnecessary. Our research suggests that this is because the digestive system is already anticipating the demands that the growing baby will place upon our body."

The results also explain the struggle to lose weight after pregnancy. Evidence suggests that eating for two can be harmful and that maternal nutrition affects the offspring’s risk for developing obesity. The next big step is to establish these findings in human beings through further research.

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