Gestational diabetes is one of the most common diseases in pregnant women. A researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and her colleagues have found that this condition not only harms the mother, it also affects the newborn, causing a predisposition to obesity, lipid disorders, hypertension and type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

During intrauterine development, there is a process of metabolic programming with a chemical marking of the baby’s DNA that predisposes it,” said Maria Teresa Tusie Luna, of the UNAM Peripheral Unit of the Institute of Biomedical Research (IIBm) at the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition ‘Salvador Zubiran’.

For this finding, Tusie Luna received the Prize for the GEN Investigation of Birth Defects, by the Minister of Health Jose Narro Robles. This award is granted by the Birth Studies Group (Grupo de Estudios al Nacimiento, GEN) granted to distinguished published papers on different aspects of prevention of defects at birth.

Preventable condition

Until recently it was thought that genetic disorders were rare, occurring with very low prevalence. Now it is known that many metabolic diseases have a genetic origin, even from before birth,” Tusie Luna said.

Studies on gestational diabetes in the world have showed that it is a preventable condition if is diagnosed in time, thus preventing its development would reduce complications in the mother and perinatal conditions in the son. Some of these perinatal conditions include overweight and excessive size (macrosomia) and increased prevalence of congenital malformations (some of them severe, such as cardiac abnormalities).

In gestational diabetes, there is an alteration in the use of glucose recognized and diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. Generally this condition is reversible, that is, once the pregnancy is over, the woman returns to her normoglycaemia levels. However, years or decades after that primary event, they are at high risk of suffering type 2 diabetes,” Tusie Luna said.

The research team discovered a high prevalence (30 to 40 percent) of type 2 diabetes development in women who previously presented gestational diabetes during pregnancy, in comparison with those who did not.  In contrast to what is reported in other populations, where conversion occurs five or 10 years after pregnancy, in Mexico they found much more prematurity for the onset of the disease: One or two years after pregnancy they become type 2 diabetics.”

Since many of them are still of reproductive age, after developing the disease they have other pregnancies, which poses a great risk for the mother, but also for the baby who develops in that environment of hyperglycemia and has higher chances of having metabolic abnormalities in adulthood, she said.

Early diagnosis

All this is preventable with a diagnosis of gestational diabetes between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy, when there is a process that subjects the mother to a greater metabolic pressure, in order to synthesize insulin due to the demand of the pregnancy itself, she said.