The delicate balance of nutrients consumed by a pregnant woman determines whether her child is likely to develop high blood pressure or diabetes in later life, suggest results presented this week.
People who have a relatively low birth weight and a relatively high adult weight are at risk of developing high blood pressure and adult diabetes. But it is the balance of nutrients, rather than the total amount of food consumed, that is important, say researchers. At the Biochemical Society meeting in Leicester this week they presented the latest work on why this might be so.
One theory is that during a normal pregnancy the placenta blocks hormones associated with stress, preventing them from being passed from mother to child. If the mother is undernourished the barrier works less well and this makes the child more sensitive to stress hormones in later life, resulting in high blood pressure.
Simon Langley-Evans of Nene University College, Northampton, fed pregnant rats less protein than normal. As soon as the pups were born, he returned the protein levels to normal for both the mother and her offspring. Dr Langley-Evans examined the pups in later life and found that they were more likely to have developed high blood pressure.
A similar experiment at the University of Cambridge looked at how adult diabetes might be linked to low birth weight. Susan Ozanne also kept pregnant rats on a low-protein diet to test whether their pups were more likely to develop diabetes as adults. She found that they did develop diabetes - but not high blood pressure. "This tells us that it is not the low protein that is causing the health problems, it is the balance of nutrients in the pregnancy," said Dr Langley-Evans.