Can Diabetes Be Prevented Even Before Birth?

Posted by Dr. Barry Sears

Mar 28, 2016 1:37:32 PM
Dr. Sears Blog: Can Diabetes Be Prevented Even Before Birth?

 

More than a decade ago, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control estimated that the lifetime risk of developing diabetes for children born after 2000 was one in three. For Hispanics the odds of a child becoming diabetic increased to almost one in two. Furthermore, the authors estimated that if people developed diabetes by the age of 40 they would lose between 12 and 14 years of their potential lifespans and between 19 and 22 years of their quality of life.

 

This is not a very pleasant future for the U.S., since it is the country that spends the greatest amount of money in the world on health care.

 

This study was followed by another article in New England Journal of Medicine warning about the potential decline in life expectancy in the United States primarily due to increasing obesity.

 

Ten years after the publications of these articles obesity still has not been abated and diabetes continues to accelerate with a corresponding increase in television advertising of the newest diabetic drugs.

 

Obviously prevention programs and new treatments aren’t working to eliminate diabetes, so maybe we have to start preventing it before children are even born. This is the focus of a recent textbook called, Metabolic Syndrome and the Complications of Pregnancy of which I was one of the co-editors.

 

If Mom has inflammation during pregnancy, so does baby

This textbook focused on the concept of fetal programming occurring in the womb that can lead to the accelerated development of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and eventually diabetes later in life. The driver for this negative fetal programming appears to be increased inflammation in the fetus.

 

Metabolic changes that will likely shorten a person’s life span are the result of the increased inflammation in the womb. Therefore, the best way to generate a better metabolic future for the child is to reduce its exposure to its mother’s diet-induced inflammation during pregnancy.

 

In the chapters that I wrote for the textbook, I described all the benefits of expectant mothers following an anti-inflammatory diet such as the Zone Diet to prevent such epigenetic changes that lead to increased inflammation in the fetus.

 

Since more than 40% of women in the United States who become pregnant are either overweight or obese, this means they are likely to also be inflamed. It would be difficult for these women to change their dietary habits quickly. But what if they could take a daily pill during pregnancy that would significantly decrease the likelihood that their unborn children would become obese or diabetic later in life?

 

What if this pill even had the potential to make babies smarter by decreasing the inflammation they are being exposed to in the womb?

 

Fish oil’s effect on fetal inflammation

This pill doesn’t contain a drug; rather it is fish oil. Two papers published the results of a study in which overweight or obese pregnant women were given 2 grams of supplemental EPA and DHA per day starting on week 14 of their pregnancies and continuing until the end of their pregnancies approximately 25 weeks later.

 

Those who got the fish oil had less inflammation as indicated by a reduction of the levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) and gave birth to infants who were longer compared to babies of the mothers taking the placebo capsules. Based on the information described in my textbook, this reduction of inflammation in the womb should reduce metabolic problems as the child matures.

 

The real life results

These results only confirm what I have recommended for years; that omega-3 fatty acids may be the most important nutrients that any pregnant woman can possibly take. That’s why I take great pride that my first grandson was not only a Zone Diet child, but was also getting his daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids (about 2.5 grams of EPA and DHA) every day in the womb because of his mother’s supplementation with OmegaRx®.

 

I make that dietary recommendation to pregnant women only if the fish oil is ultra-refined and very low in PCBs. In fact, the fish oil used in the above studies is the crude starting material that we use for the production of OmegaRx. In terms of purity, OmegaRx remains the standard by which all other fish oil products are compared. And of course, it is the only one I would ever recommend for my family.

 

Although my grandson Lukas may only represent a data point of one, he is taller, leaner, and of course wicked smart compared to other kids in his various playgroups. Call me crazy, but I think the combination of the Zone Diet and OmegaRx may have helped.

 

References:

  1. Naravan KM, Boyle JP, Thompson TJ, Sorensen SW, and Willson DF. “Lifetime risk for diabetes mellitus in the United States.” JAMA 290: 1884-1890 (2003).
  2. Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, Layden J, Carnes BA, Brody J, Hayflick L, Bulter RN, Allison DB, and Ludwig DS. “A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century.” N Eng J Med 352: 1138-1145 (2005).
  3. Ferrazzi E and Sears B (eds). Metabolic Syndrome and the Complications of Pregnancy. Springer. Switzerland (2015).
  4. Fisher SC, Kim SY, Sharma AJ, Rochat R, and Morrow B. “Is obesity still increasing among pregnant women?” Prev Med 56:372-378 (2013).
  5. Haghiac M, Yan X, Presley L, Smith S, Dettelback S, Minium J, Belury MA, Catalano PM, and Haugel-de Mouszon S. “Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduces inflammation in obese pregnant women.” PLoS One 10:e0137309 (2015).
  6. Calabui-Narvaro V, Puchowicz M, Glazebrook P, Haghiac M, Minium J, Catalano P, Haugel-de Mouszon S, and O’Tierney-Ginn P. “Effect of omega-3 supplementation on placental lipid metabolism in overweight and obese women.” Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.124651 (2016).