Research finds high-fat diet could result in fewer male babies born

Eating a diet with high omega 6 in the lead up to pregnancy, could play a role in a lower percentage of male babies being conceived, according to a new study led by a Griffith University researcher.

The research, ‘High maternal linoleic acid diet in pregnancy’, has been published in The Journal of Physiology.

Dr Deanne Skelly, Deputy Dean of Learning and Teaching and a Senior Lecturer in Griffith’s School of Environment and Science, led the research which found a diet, with high concentrations of the omega 6 fatty acid linoleic acid, reduced the percentage of male babies in an animal model.

Dr Skelly said Western societies were increasingly eating more omega 6 fats, particularly linoleic acid which is present in foods such as potato chips and vegetable oil, and Australiansin particular wereeating three times the recommended daily intake of linoleic acid.

“Our data showed that in rat mothers who ate a high linoleic acid diet, their liver had altered concentrations of inflammatory proteins and their circulating concentrations of prostaglandin E (a protein that can cause contraction of the uterus during pregnancy) were increased and leptin (a hormone that can regulate growth and development) was decreased,” she said.

“Rat mothers can have between 4-12 babies typically. Our study showed that eating a high linoleic acid diet reduced the percentage of male babies.”

When a human diet was rich in linoleic acid, the diet also tended to be high in fat, sugar and salt. In the study, the only change between the diets between the human and animal model groups was higher linoleic acid and no changes in fat, sugar or salt.

However, if the effects of a high linoleic acid were the same in rats and humans, this would suggest that women who were planning to start a family should consider reducing the amount of linoleic acid in their diet.

“Our findings suggest that it’s probably a good recommendation for women who are thinking of getting pregnant to reduce the content of omega 6 in their diet,” Dr Skelly said.

“But we don’t know at this point if it is going to cause deleterious effects long-term.

“My hope is that we have the opportunity to investigate further the links between high linoleic acid in the diet and birth outcomes and child development.”

Dr Skelly said the research team was currently investigating if there were any changes in the children from mothers who ate a diet high in linoleic acid during pregnancy. We are interested to see if the mother’s diet increases the child’s disease risk, and if males are more adversely affected.

This research was funded by the Allen Foundation in the United States.