Prolonged consumption of diets rich in high fat can have severe metabolic and reproductive health consequences for consumers and their ‘diet unexposed’ children.

This was the finding of Nigerian-born Dr Adeyemi Esther who was awarded a PhD in Health Sciences (Physiology) from UKZN.

Her study investigated the impact of maternal high fat diet (HFD) consumption on sex-linked differences in the reproductive hormone profiles of diet-unexposed children.

 It also examined the therapeutic potential of the antioxidant Quercetin-3-O-rutinoside (QR) against the HFD-induced biological changes at different stages of development in rats.

Adeyemi’s research was accepted for presentation at the Physiology 2019 conference in Aberdeen, Scotland, and also presented at local platforms including the Physiological Society of Southern Africa (PSSA) conference and the UKZN College of Health Sciences Research symposium. She received an award during the PSSA conference and published two research articles from her PhD study in reputable journals.

Said Adeyemi: ‘I am eternally grateful to the Almighty God. It is a great achievement for me being the first woman and the only person in my family to achieve at this level. I know my late parents would have been proud of me.’

Adeyemi is presently a contract research field worker at the Faculty of Health Science at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. Prior to that, she lectured at the Physiology Department at Bingham University in Nigeria for three years.  

‘I have a strong passion for research and learning,’ said Adeyemi.  ‘I also love to impart knowledge – I think that runs in the family – so assisting young people studying Physiology to achieve at the highest level is rewarding.

‘I developed a passion during my undergraduate days for Human Physiology which helps in the understanding of the integrative functions of the various systems of the body. I particularly enjoy endocrinology and reproductive system physiology. Work I did for my master’s was part of ongoing comparative research work in the lab, focused mainly on endocrinology and metabolism in both male and female amphibians. Human Physiology is a very interesting and educative course.’

According to Adeyemi, previous studies have shown that the reproductive health of an individual can be programmed prior to birth as exposure to certain environmental factors, especially during intrauterine life, play significant roles in transcriptional and epigenetic alterations in pivotal genes. However, understanding the molecular mechanisms linking oxidative stress caused by adverse environmental conditions to intrauterine alterations at critical periods of development, might help in the clinical management of diet-induced infertility problems.

Like many other PhD students, challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic made her feel like giving up her studies at some stages but with the help of God and her husband’s words of encouragement she persevered.

She thanked her supervisors Dr Anand Nadar and Professor Mahendra Channa who she said had been very helpful and supportive.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photograph: Supplied