Maternal Dairy Fat Intake Linked to Improved Psychomotor Development in Lemurs

Maternal Dairy Fat Intake Linked to Improved Psychomotor Development in Lemurs

Author: Antonia Niedobitek

Plant-based foods are increasingly preferred over animal-derived foods because they are considered healthy, ethical, and environmentally friendly. However, the effects of substituting animal-derived foods with plant-based foods on our own physiology and that of our offspring are poorly studied to date.

Children are provided with important nutrients for development through the placenta during pregnancy and in breast milk during breastfeeding, thus linking maternal nutrition to their physical condition. For example, decreased animal lipid consumption and increased vegetable lipid consumption are assumed to impair the availability of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is important for healthy brain function.

Yohann Chaudron, Fabien Pifferi, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Brunoy, France, and colleagues investigated whether the maternal intake of vegetable versus dairy lipids affects the psychomotor development of offspring in gray mouse lemurs. These animals can serve as a useful primate model for infant nutritional studies. The lemur mothers were fed one of two different diets starting two months before conception and continuing during gestation and until weaning: either a diet based on lipids mainly from vegetable oils, resembling a western human diet, or a diet in which 75 % of lipids were dairy lipids.

Multiple times during the first 30 days after birth, the researchers then studied an array of functions associated with psychomotor performance in the lemur’s offspring. For example, they placed newborns headfirst on a downward-sloping surface and observed how often they successfully flipped over onto their backs, a natural behavior to prevent injuries. They also measured the time needed for newborns to move from one end of an elevated wooden rod to the other end.

Offspring from the dairy lipid group were more successful at all psychomotor tasks than offspring from the vegetable lipid group. This suggests that the dairy lipid diet positively affected functions like the perception of gravity, motor coordination, and memory abilities. However, performance in the groups differed only during the first days of life and was similar by 30 days after birth. Newborns from the dairy lipid group developed psychomotor skills more quickly, but later they reached comparable levels in the vegetable lipid group. Overall, the work suggests that maternal intake of dairy lipids may have benefits compared with a vegan diet with regard to psychomotor development in newborns.


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