Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and can cause health problems to both the mother and the baby. It doesn’t mean that the woman had diabetes before she conceived or that she will have diabetes after she gives birth but a new study by Rutgers University has found that kids born to mothers who had diabetes during pregnancy may age faster biologically. These children are also at an increased risk for high blood pressure and obesity.
Prenatal gestational diabetes mellitus exposure
Authors Stephanie Shiau from the Department of Biostatics and Epidemiology and colleagues investigated the link between prenatal gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) exposure and baby DNA methylation (biological process) age at 3-10. The research included 578 GDM and 578 non-GDM mother-child pairs.
Subject children underwent an exam with anthropometric measurements – quantitative measurements of the muscle, adipose tissue, and bone to assess the composition of the body – and blood draw for the DNAm analysis. Accelerated aging can be determined by evaluating if the estimated DNA methylation age of a person is greater than their chronological age. Previous studies have shown that accelerated aging is associated with poor health outcomes and cardiovascular risk later in life.
After analysis, the result shows that kids born to mothers who had diabetes during pregnancy had a higher epigenetic age or were older than their actual age. Such epigenetic age is linked with higher body fat percentage, body mass index, blood pressure, upper-arm circumference, and weight.
Lead author Shiau said via Medical Dialogues that diabetes during pregnancy could lead to poorer cardiometabolic health outcomes and epigenetic aging in children. The results likewise support the need for further studies using longitudinal samples in evaluating the link between the later onset of adult metabolism diseases and epigenetic age.
Gestational diabetes: statistics
According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 10% of pregnancies in the US are affected by gestational diabetes every day. While the causes of gestational diabetes are not known, it happens to millions of women. The placenta supports the baby as it grows in the womb of the mother. However, some hormones can block the action of the mother’s insulin to her body and it can lead to insulin resistance. As a result, it makes it difficult for the mother’s body to use insulin.
ADA advised pregnant women to test their blood sugar levels. The target should be 95 mg/dl or less before a meal, 140 mg/dl or less one hour after a meal, and 120 mg/dl or less two hours after a meal. “Always remember that this is treatable,” it added.
In a 2016 survey in France, Statista Research Department found that more than 10% of women who had given birth in that year reported having developed gestational diabetes. Furthermore, 7% of the women who developed diabetes underwent a dietary treatment to control their disease and 3.2% was on insulin.
Gestational diabetes doesn’t have any symptoms but a woman’s medical history and if she has any risk factors may suggest to the doctor that she could have gestational diabetes. If a woman has diabetes during pregnancy, her baby is at a higher risk of being very large (9 pounds or more) and it can make delivery more difficult. The baby may also be born early, causing breathing and other problems, or have low blood sugar.
Gestational diabetes: food list
An obstetrician usually asks for a urine sample from his or her patient who’s pregnant. One thing the doctor watches is glucose. If sugar shows up in large amounts or repeatedly during tests, it can be a sign of high blood sugar during pregnancy.
To reduce a woman’s risk of gestational diabetes, a nutritionist or a doctor can help healthier choices in her diet. She may be advised to eat less refined carbohydrates (pasta, white rice, white bread) and sugar but add more fiber to her diet. For example, she can add more raw fruits, vegetables, unsweetened nut butter, nuts, and whole-grains.
Chaunie Brusie, a registered nurse with experience in obstetrics, shared that basic healthy eating during pregnancy should comprise protein every meal. A pregnant woman should also avoid or limit processed foods and should pay attention to the portion of the sizes she eats to avoid overeating. To keep the blood sugar levels stable, she can opt for snacks but not that satisfying evening snack. Instead, she should opt for healthier choices, such as veggie omelets, fresh fruit paired with berries, unsweetened coconut, or pumpkins, chicken or turkey breasts, and baked fish. Brusie is not involved in the Rutgers University study.
Aside from gestational diabetes, other health problems can develop during pregnancy. This includes iron deficiency anemia, depression and anxiety, fetal problems, infections, high blood pressure related to pregnancy, miscarriage, hyperemesis gravidarum, placenta previa, placental abruption, preterm labor, and preeclampsia.
Chronological age vs. biological age
In 2016, a study titled “Infant’s DNA Methylation Age at Birth and Epigenetic Aging Accelerators” also explained that people are aging from the moment of birth until the moment of death. Yet, the manner and rate of aging vary markedly among individuals. While one cannot use chronological age to diagnose health status, the biological age can help determine when a person is showing clinical symptoms of the disease. In their study, the researchers sought to assess and quantify the variability in biological age at birth and to better understand how aging rates before birth are influenced by environmental exposure and genetic in intrauterine periods. The authors observed a significant link with the risk of fast aging for prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke.
Understanding your biological age
Meanwhile, it is a big step to understand your health profile if you know your biological age. The second important aspect is also equally important and that is tracking your biological age. Our biological age may change so seeing the changes over time is important to understand what is bad and good for your health. Different behaviors of a person will affect their biological ages also in a different way.
Life is not predictable enough for all of us to see a 1:1 match in biological and chronological age. As days, months, and years pass, our cells progress less or more rapidly than what is expected by others from our chronological age.