Pregnancy

Insulin resistance may develop in the womb, scientists have found

by Barbara Hewitt on July 15, 2014

Scientists are trying to find out if the metabolism of a pregnant woman can affect her unborn baby, making it more prone to developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.

It is already known that children whose mothers are obese and diabetic are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in adulthood, but the reason has not been found.

pregnancy

The propensity for developing type 2 diabetes could be pre-programmed in the womb

Now, new research carried out at the University of Tubingen in Germany has found that a child’s risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes could start before birth by being pre-programmed in their mother’s womb.

Environmental and genetic mechanisms are thought to be involved, including the so-called foetal programming system, whereby the mother’s exposure to environmental factors can affect gene programming in her unborn child.

The scientists looked at how the post-meal metabolism of a pregnant woman affects the brain activity of the foetus.

Oral glucose tolerance tests, which involve taking a sugary drink, were conducted on a group of 13 healthy pregnant women. Levels of glucose and insulin were measured at 0, 60 and 120 minutes to determine insulin sensitivity. Sound tests were also carried out at each time point to test foetal brain responses.

After 60 minutes, the results showed that women who were less sensitive to insulin, or more insulin resistant, had foetuses that reacted more slowly to the sound test. This indicates that foetal brain reactions to the mother’s sugar intake is associated with the latter’s insulin sensitivity.

‘It is possible that insulin resistant mothers have higher glucose levels accompanied by increased insulin levels after a meal,’ said research report author Dr. Hubert Preissl.

‘As glucose passes the placenta, these increased glucose levels induce excess insulin in the foetus. So, high insulin levels in the mother may correspond to high insulin levels in the foetus,’ he explained.

‘Lower maternal insulin sensitivity is associated with slower foetal brain responses. These findings provide evidence of a direct effect of maternal metabolism on foetal brain activity and suggest that central insulin resistance may be programmed during foetal development,’ he added.

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