A new research study reports the correlation between gestational diabetes and fetuses’ brain responses to stimulus after the mother consumes drinks and foods containing sugar. The study, entitled “Gestational Diabetes Impairs Human Fetal Postprandial Brain Activity,” was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. GDM has been found, through a series of epidemiological reports, to have serious adverse effects on the health of both the mother and the child. These include a higher risk of developing diabetes type 2 later in life, a higher risk for obesity in the offspring, increased risk of too large size for gestational age, and cesarean delivery. A high glucose transference through the placenta also has other consequences, including a stimulation of insulin release and increased insulin resistance by the fetus. Several animal studies have also shown that this impaired insulin action also affects the development of the fetal central nervous system (CNS), though in humans the effect of hyperglycemia and high levels of insulin in the uterus has not yet been determined.
In light of this information, researchers designed an experiment aimed to determine what happens to the brain function of the fetus in pregnant women with gestational diabetes. The study included 40 pregnant women, 12 of which were previously diagnosed with GDM. After an overnight fast, the women drank a 75-gram glucose solution. Blood samples were obtained before glucose ingestion (0 minutes), and again 60 minutes and 120 minutes after. Every time a collection of blood was made, women were subjected to an auditory stimulus to evoke a fetal response. This response was measured by a fetal magnetoencephalographic device, an imaging technique.
The results indicated that, one hour after glucose intake, the fetuses of healthy pregnant women were faster to react to the sound stimulus than the fetuses of women diagnosed with GDM. Fetuses of women without GDM had a reaction in an average of 206 milliseconds, while fetuses of women with GDM responded in an average of 296 milliseconds.
Dr. Hubert Preissl, one of the research study’s co-senior authors, commented on the results and what they can tell us about mother and child metabolism in a news release, saying, “The findings tell us the brain function of the fetus is influenced by its mother’s metabolism. Our theory is that the mother’s metabolism programs her child’s metabolism in a manner that may have consequences for the child’s obesity and diabetes risk later in life.”