But low birth weight is being linked to residual effects and in a new paper researchers find that underweight infants may eventually become the grandparents of children at a higher risk for metabolic problems like high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, according to a new study.
The researchers started with two groups of rats. One of these groups had their blood vessels to the womb tied off toward the end of pregnancy, leading to low birthweight pups; the second group underwent a "sham" surgery but did not have their blood vessels to the womb tied. All of the rats delivered naturally, giving rise to the first generation of low birthweight and normal rats.
These rats were later allocated to the nutrient-supplemented diet after weaning, or kept on a regular diet. When they reached early adult life, they were bred to produce pups of their own (grandpups) and were maintained on their allocated diets. These pregnancies were not surgically manipulated, but the grandpups were low birthweight if either of their parents were low birthweight.
The grandpups were kept on the same diet as their parents and followed up to 1 year of age (well into rat adulthood). They were then tested for obesity with clinical DEXA scans, for diabetes with clinical glucose tests and special "clamp" studies, and fasting lipid levels were measured. In some of the animals, liver and other tissues were collected to study the epigenetic changes to the DNA.
"It is our hope that these findings will spur on studies in humans to study the impact of essential nutrients not just for their impact on infant birthweight and health, but longer term health across the lifespan. Our data suggests that in rats, low birthweight can be passed down from both the mom and the dad, and that this cannot be altered by essential nutrient supplementation in the mom or dads diet," said Kjersti Aagaard, M.D., Ph.D., FACOG, from the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. "However, we can change the adult health and risk of obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol and bad lipids later in life. These findings further underscore the importance of long-term follow up studies in our patients, and notably interventions in pregnancy which may have long-term impacts which we cannot easily or reliably measure at birth."
Citation: Danielle Goodspeed, Maxim D. Seferovic, William Holland, Robert A. Mcknight, Scott A. Summers, D. Ware Branch, Robert H. Lane, and Kjersti M. Aagaard. Essential nutrient supplementation prevents heritable metabolic disease in multigenerational intrauterine growth-restricted rats. FASEB J. March 2015 29:807-819; doi:10.1096/fj.14-259614
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