The quality of a person’s diet at the time of conception and in early pregnancy may be linked to the risk of developing gestational diabetes, according to new research presented at the 42nd Pregnancy Meeting (the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine) and described in an article at Healio.
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy, and usually resolves on its own after giving birth. But sometimes blood glucose doesn’t return to normal after childbirth, leading to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is also linked to a greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes later on in life. Recently, there have been several prominent studies looking at factors that may be linked to the development of gestational diabetes, and looking at ways to reduce the risk for later health problems in women with a history of gestational diabetes. One study found that changes in a person’s gut microbiome (gut bacteria) may play a role in the development of gestational diabetes. Other studies have found that weight loss after a pregnancy with gestational diabetes can help reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, and intermittent fasting may be an effective way to achieve this. Other research has shown that drinking alcohol in moderation is linked to a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes in women with a history of gestational diabetes.
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For the latest study, researchers looked at data from 9,566 women, with an average age of 27.3, who took part in a pregnancy outcome study. This group included a subset of 1,116 women who were considered to be at high risk for gestational diabetes, and who took an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) at an average of 28.7 weeks of gestation. These participants also reported on their diet over the past three months through a food frequency questionnaire, and the researchers scored their dietary quality using a system called the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI).
Healthy diet linked to decreased risk of gestational diabetes
Among all study participants, the rate of gestational diabetes was 4.1%, and in the smaller group of higher-risk participants who took an OGTT, the rate of gestational diabetes was 21.3%. In the smaller group, though, there was small but still significant variation in the rate of gestational diabetes depending on participants’ diet scores. Those who scored in the top half of the Alternative Healthy Eating Index — indicating a healthier diet — were less likely to develop gestational diabetes than those in the bottom half. But the average fasting glucose level in the bottom quarter of participants based on eating scores was 82 mg/dl, while in the top quarter of eating scores it was only slightly lower at 79 mg/dl.
The researchers concluded that a woman’s diet around the time of conception may have a small but significant effect on the risk of developing gestational diabetes. Future studies, they suggested, should focus on diet interventions before pregnancy — rather than just asking women about their diets after the fact — with a focus on women who are economically disadvantaged and more likely to have a poor-quality diet.