Nurturing Generations: How a Mother’s Diet Guards Her Grandchildren’s Brains

September 12th, 2023

By Lily Anderson

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

In a ground breaking study conducted at Monash University, researchers have discovered a remarkable connection between a mother’s diet during early pregnancy and the long-term brain health of her children and even grandchildren. The study, published in Nature Cell Biology,  sheds light on the profound impact certain foods can have on protecting brain function and preventing neurodegeneration.

Unveiling the Protective Power of Apples and Herbs

Using the genetic model of roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans), the researchers delved into the intricate world of neural networks to understand how specific foods influenced brain health across generations. The choice of roundworms as the model was strategic, as many of their genes are closely related to those found in humans, providing valuable insights into the functioning of human cells.

Nurturing the Brain’s Communication Cables

At the heart of this study were nerve cells in the brain that rely on communication cables, known as axons, to transmit signals effectively. These delicate axons, stretching over an astonishing 850,000 kilometers, are essential for maintaining proper brain function. However, with age, these cables can become fragile, leading to brain dysfunction and neurodegeneration.

Ursolic Acid: Nature’s Brain Protector

The key discovery of this research was the identification of a potent molecule present in certain foods—ursolic acid. This remarkable compound is found abundantly in apples and various herbs, including basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage. The researchers observed that ursolic acid significantly reduced the fragility of axons, thereby protecting the brain’s communication network.

Unraveling the Mechanism of Protection

Professor Roger Pocock, the senior author of the study, and his team unraveled the underlying mechanism by which ursolic acid confers its protective effects. It was revealed that ursolic acid activates a specific gene responsible for producing a particular type of fat known as sphingolipids. This unique fat plays a crucial role in enhancing axon transport, ultimately bolstering their overall health and resilience.

From Mother to Offspring: An Inheritance of Brain Protection

Perhaps one of the most astonishing findings of this study is the revelation that the protective effects of ursolic acid are inheritable. The researchers observed that this sphingolipid fat, activated by the molecule in the mother’s diet, could be passed on to eggs in the uterus. Consequently, the offspring of these mothers inherit the same brain protection, extending its benefits to multiple generations.

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Implications for Human Health

While these findings are extraordinary, it’s essential to remember that the study was conducted using roundworms, and further research is required to validate its applicability to humans. Nonetheless, this breakthrough research opens new avenues for understanding the profound impact of maternal diet on brain health and development.

A Call for Nourishing Diets During Pregnancy

Professor Pocock emphasizes the significance of this research for promoting optimal brain development and health. While the direct translation to humans is yet to be confirmed, there is already strong evidence supporting the benefits of a healthy diet during pregnancy.


In conclusion, the Monash University study’s ground breaking findings have illuminated the potential power of a mother’s diet in safeguarding the brains of her children and even future generations. The discovery of ursolic acid’s protective effects on axons provides a compelling reason to emphasize the importance of nutrition during pregnancy. As research in this field progresses, it may unlock new possibilities for ensuring healthier brains and happier lives for generations to come.


An intestinal sphingolipid confers intergenerational neuroprotection –

About the author:

Lily Anderson is a passionate wordsmith and dedicated explorer of cutting-edge scientific inquiries. Fuelled by a thirst for knowledge, she skilfully transforms intricate ideas into relatable tales, inviting readers to embark on a captivating expedition of revelation. Lily’s efforts play a crucial role in bridging the gap between experts and the wider public, evoking a sense of awe and encouraging insightful discussions about groundbreaking scientific advancements.

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