Researchers discovered that a compound found in kiwi, celery, and papaya — called pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) — prevented the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in mice whose mothers were fed a high-fat diet.
Study leader Karen Jonscher, Ph.D. — an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, CO — and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Hepatology Communications.
NAFLD is defined as a buildup of fat in the liver that is not caused by alcohol consumption.
It is estimated that NAFLD affects between 30 and 40 percent of adults in the United States, making it one of the most common causes of liver disease in the country.
But it's not just the foods we eat ourselves that we need to be concerned about; our health could be at risk as a result of the foods our mothers ate during pregnancy.
How maternal diet affects offspring
In recent years, an overwhelming number of studies have shown that the maternal diet can leave a negative mark on the developing infant.
Last year, for example, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that expectant mothers who consume a high-fat diet can increase their children's risk — and even their grandchildren's risk — of developing breast cancer.
Research has also shown that a poor maternal diet may alter the gut bacteria of offspring in a way that makes them prone to obesity and associated conditions.
"Increasingly, evidence suggests that exposure to maternal obesity creates an inflammatory environment in utero," says Jonscher. "This leads to long-lasting postnatal disruptions of the offspring's innate immune system and gut bacterial health, which may increase the risk for development of fatty liver disease."
In a previous mouse study, the researchers found that PQQ supplementation in obese, pregnant mice prevented mild fat accumulation in the liver of offspring.
PQQ is a compound present in plant-based foods — including kiwi, green peppers, celery, parsley, and papaya — and human breast milk. PQQ is an antioxidant. This means it can help to protect our body against free radicals, which are uncharged molecules that can damage DNA and other cellular components.
For this latest study, Jonscher and colleagues set out to determine whether maternal PQQ supplementation might help to prevent the development of NAFLD in offspring.
A 'potentially safe therapeutic' for NAFLD
To reach their findings, the researchers fed pregnant mice a high-fat, Western-style diet and monitored the health of their offspring.
The team found that the weight of these offspring was around 56 percent higher than offspring born to mice fed a control diet.
Mice born to mothers who had been fed the high-fat diet also demonstrated changes in gut bacteria that were associated with the development of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – a form of NAFLD in which fat buildup in the liver is accompanied by inflammation.
However, when pregnant mice received PQQ alongside their high-fat diets, the researchers found that the NASH-associated gut bacteria changes in their offspring were reversed, and they also showed less weight gain than offspring born to mothers that did not receive PQQ.
Jonscher and colleagues believe these results suggest that PQQ could be a viable candidate for the prevention of NAFLD.
Commenting on their results, the researchers write:
"Although levels in lean versus obese mothers have not been studied in humans or animals, PQQ is a potentially safe therapeutic to test for prevention of developmental programming of NAFLD/NASH."
While PQQ is available as a supplement, Jonscher warns that people should not rush out to buy it just yet. "[I]ndividuals should consult their doctors first before using it," she advises.