Consumption of an obesity-causing high fat and sugar diet during pregnancy increases the mother’s risk of developing metabolic impairment that may affect the growth and development of the foetus, researchers say. The findings showed that a higher than recommended intake of fat and sugar exacerbates and distorts metabolic changes which occur naturally as a result of the pregnancy, so that the mother can appropriately allocate nutrients to the foetus.
This obesity-causing diet then causes poor metabolic control, just prior to the delivery, and makes the mother more susceptible to conditions such as Type-2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as to further fat accumulation later.
In addition, the condition compromises the flow of nutrients to the foetus, altering its growth and metabolism at critical stages of development, the researchers said.
“We know that obesity during pregnancy is a risk factor for health complications for mother and baby both during and after pregnancy. This study offers insight into the mechanisms operating during pregnancy that may cause this,” said lead author Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri from the University of Cambridge.
The study, detailed in the Journal of Physiology, also explains why babies from mothers who are obese or eat obesogenic diets during pregnancy have a tendency to develop conditions such as obesity, hypertension and Type-2 diabetes as adults.
For the study, the team fed a diet that contained high amounts of fat and sugar to pregnant mice and assessed the impact of this on both the metabolism of the mother and her levels of body fat.
The researchers found that the diet compromised the mother’s glucose tolerance and her sensitivity to insulin — the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.
The sensitivity of the maternal liver to insulin was found to increase, thus further reducing the glucose production during pregnancy. As a result, the mother was unable adequately to control glucose levels or produce enough glucose to support the pregnancy.