There is growing evidence that obesity in a mother affects the long-term health of her baby. We want to understand how non-genetic factors that increase the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease are passed from mother to child. This means we can do our best to lower the risks to babies' health in the long run. We are currently working with commercial partners to look at the effects of dietary supplements and medicines in rats and mice.
So far, we have found that the pups of obese mothers have greater appetites, and higher rates of obesity and diabetes, even when fed a healthy diet. This has been linked to higher levels of the hormones leptin and insulin during pregnancy and at birth. When leptin is released, we feel full - it is the body's way of telling us that we have enough energy stored. Insulin is released after meals to help glucose move from our blood to our cells, where it can be used as energy. If we find that the same changes in humans, we could try and alter the levels of these hormones to improve the health of babies born to obese women.
Polydextrose (PDX) as a dietary supplement in obese pregnancy
In mice and rats, we found that giving obese pregnant mothers a fibre called polydextrose or PDX during pregnancy and breastfeeding improves blood sugar control and lowers inflammation. It prevented the pups from gaining too much fat, while still keeping their protective fatty tissue. It also improved how much energy they needed to use, and helped blood sugar control. We think that PDX may be a promising supplement that could protect babies from the consequences of maternal obesity.
This EU research programme is being carried out in parallel with studies in obese pregnant women (including the UPBEAT trial) to help understand how diet and exercise might improve the health of both mothers and babies. In our rodent model, giving pregnant mothers a diet with a low glycaemic index (GI) and more exercise improved glucose control during pregnancy. It also prevented increases in leptin and insulin, and decreased the amount of fat in the mothers. The offspring of obese mothers gained more weight through to adulthood than those of normal-weight mothers, but this weight gain was lower in the babies of obese mothers who had the intervention during pregnancy. Babies of obese mothers who had the intervention also had lower blood pressure as adults.
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This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the British Heart Foundation, Tate & Lyle and EU EarlyNutritionHide details