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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Jun;92(6):2208-10. Epub 2007 Mar 6.

Stress responsiveness in adult life: influence of mother's diet in late pregnancy.

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Endocrinology Unit, University of Edinburgh, Queen's Medical Research Institute, Edinburgh, UK.



Men and women whose mothers ate an unbalanced high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet in late pregnancy have raised blood pressure. We recently showed that they also have raised fasting plasma cortisol concentrations. Because raised fasting cortisol concentrations probably reflect a greater response to the stress of fasting and venesection, we suspected that this diet may have led to increased stress responsiveness in the adult offspring.


The aim was to determine whether an unbalanced high-protein diet during pregnancy is associated with increased cortisol secretion in response to psychological stress in the offspring.


Salivary cortisol concentrations were measured during a modified Trier Social Stress Test in 70 men and women aged 36.3 yr whose mothers had taken part in a dietary intervention in which they were advised to eat 1 pound (0.45 kg) of red meat daily during pregnancy and to avoid carbohydrate-rich foods.


The offspring of women who reported greater consumption of meat and fish in the second half of pregnancy had higher cortisol concentrations during the Trier Test. Compared with the offspring of mothers who had reported eating no more than 13 meat/fish portions per week, the average cortisol concentrations were raised by 22% (95% confidence interval, 13 to 71%) and 46% (5 to 103%) in the offspring of those eating 14-16 and at least 17 portions per week, respectively.


These findings provide the first human evidence that an unbalanced high protein maternal diet during late pregnancy leads to increased cortisol secretion in response to psychological stress in the offspring.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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