It's known that what a mother eats during pregnancy can influence the health and development of her offspring. But does a woman's pregnancy diet affect brain health across generations? A study says eating apples and herbs can protect the brain health of not only her children, but her grandchildren too.

Researchers from Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Australia analyzed the functioning of brain axons – 850,000 kilometer-long cables that facilitate the communication essential for brain function.

"A malfunction that makes the axons fragile can lead to brain dysfunction and neurodegeneration. We asked whether natural products found in the diet can stabilize these axons and prevent breakage," said Professor Roger Pocock, a senior author of the study.

Pocock and his team used roundworms as a genetic model due to their genetic similarities to humans and found that a certain molecule, called ursolic acid, can prevent the breakdown of axons. Ursolic acid is present in apples and in herbs such as basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage.

"We identified a molecule found in apples and herbs (ursolic acid) that reduces axon fragility. How? We found that ursolic acid causes a gene to turn on that makes a specific type of fat. This particular fat also prevented axon fragility as animals age by improving axon transport and therefore its overall health," Pocock said.

A type of fat that prevents axon fragility – sphingolipid – travels from the mother's intestine to eggs in the uterus to protect the brain health of the next generation, he added.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Cell Biology. Researchers find the results promising, although it needs to be confirmed in humans.

"This is the first time that a lipid/fat has been shown to be inherited. Further, feeding the mother the sphingolipid protects the axons of two subsequent generations. This means a mother's diet can affect not just their offspring's brain but potentially subsequent generations. Our work supports a healthy diet during pregnancy for optimal brain development and health," Pocock said.