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Exposure to famine conditions during pregnancy could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in offspring

Posted:  Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Many studies have found how any influence in the early part of gestation could determine the health of the offspring. A new study confirmed this finding by revisiting the man-made Ukranian famine in the year 1932-33. According to the study, men and women who were exposed to famine conditions in early gestation had increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adulthood compared to those who did not face any famine conditions.

These findings were published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal. The researchers looked at all the 43,150 cases of Type 2 diabetes diagnosed at age 40 or above in the Ukraine national diabetes register between 2000–2008. They then matched this up with all 1.4 million individuals in the 2001 census who were born in the famine affected regions between1930–1938 and were still alive in the year 2000.

Data analysis revealed that the odds for type 2 diabetes were highest for the years 1932–34 and the birth count was lowest in early 1934, 9 months after the famine mortality peaked between May–July 1933. The researchers found the early gestation period to be sensitive to the long-term effects of famine. The researchers were able to quantify the famine’s affect to the region, season of birth, and their effects.

The researchers found that men and women born in regions of extreme food shortage were 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in adulthood. Among regions facing severe food shortage, the odds of type 2 diabetes seemed to increase 1.3 times. Individuals born in regions with no shortage did not show any odds for type 2 diabetes.

According to the researchers, seasonal availability of food was most probably the reason for increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Spring and winter seemed to be the worst seasons. Researchers believe nutritional deficiencies from a low calorie diet to be the causal factor.

“Epigenetic changes in DNA regulation in early nutrition could provide a causal link with long-term health outcomes but need further investigation. Our findings to date are very exciting however, and further expand previous insights on the importance of the early gestation period gained from famine studies in other settings," opine researchers.

Thus the findings of the study probably points to the fact on how nutritional aberrations during the first trimester would be a crucial time determining the risk of type 2 diabetes. Hence, mothers could exercise dietary caution during this sensitive timeframe.

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