Can hormones in the gut cause diabetes during pregnancy?

Dr Caroline Ovadia, Mr Hei Man Fan, Professor Catherine Williamson

Our researchers want to understand whether differences in the hormones and bacteria in our guts can increase the risks of developing diabetes during pregnancy. This could lead to new ways to treat the condition and prevent complications for mother and baby.

This research project is ongoing

Why do we need this research?

Diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy is known as gestational diabetes. It can increase the risk of pre-eclampsia, large babies and problems like obstructed labour, where the baby is not able to leave the womb during birth. Gestational diabetes is also becoming more common, making it even more important that we find ways to treat it.

What’s happening in this project?

There is growing evidence that the contents of our guts can influence the risk of diseases, including diabetes. This includes both chemicals produced by our own bodies, and bacteria that live in our guts. Certain substances in the gut can make the body release hormones, and in turn changes the way the body reacts to things like sugar and cholesterol. These gut hormones may also affect the risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy. 

In this study, our researchers will ask pregnant women with diabetes to eat a special diet, designed by a dietician, for one day. During the day, the team will take timed blood samples to measure gut hormones released into the blood. They will also collect stool samples to look at the bacteria and chemicals in the gut that might be causing the release of these hormones.

The team want to see if they can change which hormones are released into the gut, and if this could treat gestational diabetes. To find out the best way of doing this, the team will give women either metformin, a drug currently used to treat gestational diabetes, or UDCA, a drug which is currently used to treat intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Our researchers have already found that UDCA could be more effective than metformin in treating gestational diabetes, and that this might be because of how UDCA is processed in the gut.

What difference will this project make?

The results of this research will help us to find safe, effective ways of controlling diabetes during pregnancy. This means we can help more women to have healthy babies without complications.

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