URBANA A high-fat diet during pregnancy may program a woman's baby for future diabetes, even if she herself is not obese or diabetic, says a new University of Illinois study published in the Journal of Physiology.
"We found that exposure to a high-fat diet before birth modifies gene expression in the livers of offspring so they are more likely to overproduce glucose, which can cause early insulin resistance and diabetes," said Yuan-Xiang Pan, a U of I professor of nutrition.
The high-fat diet that caused these changes was a typical Western diet that contained 45 percent fat, which is not at all unusual, he said.
"In recent years, the American diet has shifted to include many high-energy, high-fat, cafeteria-type, and fast foods," he noted.
Because the epigenetic marks can be easily evaluated, Pan hopes that the study will give doctors a diagnostic tool to screen newborns born with this propensity so they can help children keep their blood sugar in a normal range and give them their best chance of avoiding diabetes.
In the study, Pan and doctoral student Rita Strakovsky fed obesity-resistant rats either a high-fat or a control diet from the first day of gestation. Because the animals were not obese before the study began, the scientists were able to determine that diet alone had produced these effects.
"At birth, offspring in the high-fat group had blood sugar levels that were twice as high as those in the control group, even though their mothers had normal levels," Strakovsky said.
The high-fat offspring also had epigenetic modifications to genes that regulate glucose metabolism. One of these modifications, the acetylation of histones, acts by loosening the DNA, making it easier for the gene to be transcribed, she said.
Pan said these epigenetic marks would not be erased easily. However, if people were aware of them, they could change their diet and lifestyle to compensate for thei
|Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer|
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences