CHILDREN whose mothers have a high-fat diet during pregnancy may be more at risk of Alzheimer’s disease in later life, Southampton scientists have found.

The study carried out on mice suggests diet during pregnancy may affect an offspring’s risk of brain changes.

Scientists studied adult mice whose mothers were fed either a normal or high fat diet during pregnancy and lactation during the study, which was funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK.

It found that mice whose mothers ate a high-fat diet during pregnancy were more likely to have vascular changes in their brains in later life.

Blood vessels in offsprings’ brains also became less efficient at clearing the protein amyloid – a hallmark feature of the disease.

The team was led by Dr Cheryl Hawkes, Alzheimer’s Research UK senior research fellow at the University of Southampton, and set out to investigate links between obesity and Alz-heimer’s.

The findings will be presented at the Alzheimer’s Research UK two-day conference, which starts today.

Dr Hawkes said: “Our preliminary findings suggest that mothers’ diets during pregnancy may have long-term effects on their children’s brains and vascular health.

“We still need to do more work to understand how our findings translate to humans, but we have known for some time that protecting mothers’ health during pregnancy can lower the risk of health problems for their children.

“Our next step will be to investigate how our findings could relate to Alzheimer’s disease in people.

“We hope these results could provide a new lead for research to understand how to prevent the disease.”

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Resea-rch UK, said: “It’s important to remember that this research is in mice, but these results add to existing evidence suggesting that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in later life is affected by our health earlier in life.

“This study goes one step further by suggesting that what happens in the womb may also be important.

“We’re pleased to have funded this research, which has shed new light on the complex picture of Alzheimer’s risk.

“Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease and it’s likely that our risk is affected by a number of different factors.

“Evidence suggests we can lower our risk by eating a balanced diet, doing exercise, not smoking and keeping our blood pressure and weight in check.”