Can hormones in the gut cause diabetes during pregnancy?

Professor Catherine Williamson, Dr Caroline Ovadia

Tommy’s researchers want to understand whether differences in the chemicals and bacteria that live in our guts can increase the risks of developing diabetes during pregnancy.

Diabetes that is first diagnosed during pregnancy is known as gestational diabetes. It is related to an increased 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.

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 can also affect the risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy. 

We will ask pregnant women with diabetes to eat a special diet, designed by a dietician, for one day. During the day, we will take timed blood samples to measure gut hormones. We will also collect stool samples to look at the microorganisms and chemicals in the gut that could cause the release of these hormones.

We hope that by changing the release of hormones in the gut, we will be able to treat women suffering from gestational diabetes. To find out the best way of doing this, we want to design a study that will look at two ways of changing the gut hormones: using probiotics, or a drug called ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA). The results of this research should 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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This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's and the Wellcome Trust

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