Mother's Fatty Diet Makes Baby Monkeys Afraid of Mr. Potato Head

By Jennifer Welsh | November 19, 2010 12:49 pm

creepy-potatoWhat monkey mothers eat has a large impact on how skittish their offspring act in stressful situations like stranger danger–or the presence of a Mr. Potato Head in their cage.

According to researchers, even normal monkeys find the toy’s large eyes to be “mildly stressful.” But baby monkeys from mothers who were fed a high-fat diet (over 35 percent of calories from fat, modeled after a typical American diet) had a much stronger reaction to an encounter with the spud man, and also spazzed in the presence of an unknown human.

The study, presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual conference, found that in stressful situations, the female offspring were more anxious and the males more aggressive, explains LiveScience:

The babies of the moms on the fatty diet were overwhelmingly more freaked out by the toys and stranger, the researchers found. That was especially true of female monkeys, which were reluctant to approach the toys (although they responded eagerly to food). The male offspring of fatty-diet moms were more likely to behave aggressively, threatening the human intruder in the stranger test, for example.

The behavior didn’t seem to result from the mother’s body fat content–the attitude changes occurred in the children of both fat and lean monkey moms on the high-fat diet. When they looked closer, the researchers found that the difference might lie in the brain.

When they examined the brains of the offspring, researchers found disruptions in serotonin signaling, which normally provides a feeling of well-being. The researchers think that placental inflammation brought on by the high-fat diet exposed the monkey fetuses to proteins called cytokines, which are known to cause serotonin disruptions.

It also doesn’t seem to matter what the offspring eat themselves, study researcher Kevin Grove told LiveScience:

“Even if we take the offspring, after they’re weaned from their mothers, and put them back onto a normal, healthy diet, their susceptibility to stress and anxiety still remains,” Grove said. “This really appears to be a permanent issue that occurs in utero.”

You heard it here, potential mothers-to-be: Watch what you eat while pregnant, or your child could end up with a lifelong potato head paranoia.

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Image: flickr / beeep

  • Arlo

    >> You heard it here, potential mothers-to-be: Watch what you eat while pregnant, or your child could end up with a lifelong potato head paranoia.

    Glad you made a joke out of this, but I’m afraid that people will take this as evidence against eating fat. Our scavenging, every-last-calorie, meat eating ancestors of 2.x million (and perhaps longer) might disagree.

    Short rant: I’m surprised that anybody thinks that dietary experiments on other primates or, heck, MICE of all species say anything about how a particular diet affects humans. How long ago did we diverge from rodents? Isn’t diet an integral component of a species evolution?

    Example: The still propagated myth that dietary cholesterol affects serum cholesterol traces it’s origins back to an experiment (in the 1930’s I believe) where-in rabbits were fed high amounts of dietary cholesterol (and I mean high even in human standards) and developed atherosclerosis. Rabbits didn’t evolve over millions of years to eat the same diet we do. Why do we trust rodent studies so? Because they are cheap and easy to breed, and are less subject to ethical considerations?

    It’s cognitive dissonance to think that every other species is well adapted to it’s particular diet, but we humans are not adapted to protein, meat and fat, even though we’ve been scavenging it for millions of years and hunting it actively for hundreds of thousands.

  • allison

    this study is disgusting. first of all, it’s cruel to monkeys. second, it doesn’t tell us anything about human health. third, mr. potato head? really? is this a joke?

  • Jennifer

    We have long known that high-fat diets aren’t healthy for humans–and this inhumane experiment is not going to tell us anything else about human health. Our bodies are very different from monkeys’. And if we want to know more about how our bodies are affected by diet, we can study the diets of HUMANS who are naturally eating high-fat vs. low-fat diets. Researchers are already doing this in a wide range of studies.

  • Pat

    Ok ask what happened to the mothers of the babies, they were killed once the babies were taken out by ceserian, and their brains dissected. What sense does any of this make spending $750,000.00 dollars of tax payers money on what. Torture. This so called scientist should be jailed for being an idiot. Come on respond and tell me what sense this is

  • Lisa

    This is cruelty beyond believe

  • Mary Ellen

    Again – a cruel and outdated experiement is performed on our closest relatives at the taxpayers expense! These so-called scientist need to stop wasting our money and get a real job already! It’s disgusting!

  • Ann

    These researchers are some of the sickest people in this nation. How would they feel if their babies were placed in cages and terrified for some stupid experiment? This is disgusting.

  • raw food diet

    Good afternoon, It’s a rare find for a nice blog such as this. I enjoyed it. Kudos to you. Have a nice day!


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