Obesity, high-fat diets during pregnancy could harm fetus

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Pregnant women who are obese or eating a diet high in fatty foods could unwittingly be harming their unborn child, according to new research published by the journal Molecular Metabolism.

In the study, researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) Doernbecher Children’s Hospital found that a high-fat diet and obesity during pregnancy could damage the hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells of the fetal liver that are responsible for creating and sustaining blood and immune system function throughout a person’s lifetime.

“The life-long burden of a western-style diet on the heart and circulatory system have long been appreciated,” the university explained in a statement. “However, prior to this study, no one had considered whether the developing blood stem cells might be similarly vulnerable to prenatal high-fat diet and/or maternal obesity.”

“Our results offer a model for testing whether the effects of a high-fat diet and obesity can be repaired through dietary intervention, a key question when extrapolating this data to human populations,” added study co-author Dr. Daniel L. Marks, a professor of pediatric endocrinology in the OHSU School of Medicine and Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute at the hospital.

Several years ago, the researchers developed a mouse model designed to mimic the type of diet consumed by many young women of childbearing age – high in fat and simple sugars. Their investigation revealed that maternal overnutrition in mice significantly reduced the size of the fetal liver.

Following that research, Marks joined forces with Dr. Peter Kurre, a stem cell expert and a professor of pediatric oncology in the OHSU School of Medicine and the Papé Family Pediatric Research Institute. Together, they found that the complex changes that occur as a result of this maternal diet and obesity constrains the grown and expansion of blood stem cells in the fetal liver. As a result, this ultimately compromises a child’s developing immune system.

“In light of the spreading western-style, high-fat diet and accompanying obesity epidemic, this study highlights the need to better understand the previous unrecognized susceptibility of the stem and progenitor cell system,” said Kurre. “These findings may provide broad context for the rise in immune disease and allergic disposition in children.”

In addition to Marks and Kurre, OHSU experts Ashley N. Kamimae-Lanning, Stephanie M. Krasnow, Natalya A. Goloviznina, Xinxia Zhu, Quinn R. Roth-Carter, Peter R. Levasseur, Sophia Jeng, Shannon K. McWeeney were involved in the study.

The study was funded by Friends of Doernbecher and by the Oregon Clinical Translational Research Institute at OHSU. In addition, the research was supported by grants from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The paper is not the first to find a link between obesity and adverse health issues with the unborn child. In June, Stanford University School of Medicine researchers found that women who were obese before becoming pregnant faced an increased risk of delivering a very premature baby, and an October 2013 Harvard School of Public Health study found that weight gain during pregnancy had a direct impact on her child’s risk of obesity through age 12.

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