Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Fatty Maternal Diet Changes Newborn Heart’s “Taste Buds”

Baby rats whose mothers were fed a high-fat diet had larger than normal hearts with fewer taste receptors for bitter flavours, according to research published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardio­vascular Diseases.

Taste receptors have only recently been found outside the mouth at sites including the heart, where both bitter and savoury receptors have been identified. Their function is not yet clear, but they may play a part in nutrient detection and regulation of appetite.

“We know that a range of maternal factors, including diet, can influence foetal development, but this is the first study to examine changes in the expression of taste receptors in the heart,” said Prof Margaret Morris of UNSW Australia. “This may be an important finding linking taste preferences or nutrient availability and cardiovascular health.”

The offspring of obese rats also had larger hearts with fewer angiotensin II and beta-adrenoreceptors, which are important in the regulation of blood pressure and cardiac activity. According to Morris, this suggests that their cardiovascular systems were overactive. Previous studies have a shown a link between chronic overeating and the fight-or-flight nervous system response.

The mother rats were fed a high-fat diet including pies, cakes, biscuits and dim sims for 6 weeks before mating and throughout gestation and lactation, and their offspring were compared with those born to a control group given regular rat feed.

Half of each group were also allowed a running wheel to explore the impact of exercise. Morris said this had “limited effects”, with similar cardiac changes seen in the exercising and non-exercising obese groups.