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Study: Pregnant women with diabetes put their children at greater risk of this

The findings are based on hundreds of thousands of children whose mothers had type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

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Unrecognizable pregnant woman with syringe in hand isolated on white, isolated on white background
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Mothers to be with diabetes put their children at greater risk of autism and behavioral problems, according to new research.

Offspring are also prone to other neurological conditions including developmental delay, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

The findings are based on hundreds of thousands of children whose mothers had type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Maternal diabetes is a state of chronic inflammation that can affect the placenta - a disc of tissue that supplies nutrients and oxygen to the fetus.

Corresponding author Professor Pao-Lin Kuo explained: "These pathologies can cause neurodevelopmental defects."

They also change genes in the cord blood of newborns which contain stem cells - the body's key building blocks.

Kuo, of National Cheng Kung University Hospital, in Taiwan, said: "Taken together, the risk of childhood neuro-developmental disorders increases with advancing severity of maternal diabetes mellitus."

His team tracked 877,233 children born in Taiwan between 2004 and 2008 for up to 12 years.

Rates of gestational diabetes, which comes on during pregnancy, are soaring. Women with a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or more are particularly vulnerable.

It was associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and developmental delay.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by eating too much junk food and lack of exercise. It was also linked to intellectual disability, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

A healthcare worker examining pregnant woman indoors at home.
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Genes or environmental factors are believed to be behind Type 1 diabetes. It raised cases of developmental delay, intellectual disability and epilepsy.

Kuo said: "Considering the high disease burden of diabetes and some neuro-developmental disorders globally, reducing them in children born to mothers complicated with diabetes is an unmet need.

"Although different neuro-developmental disorders may share the same underlying causes, including genetic and environmental factors, distinctive mechanisms may contribute to distinctive brain conditions."

Previous research has found diabetes pregnancy raises the risk of children developing heart disease.

A baby's development is complex and any change to a mother's body can have consequences for her baby.

The relationship goes the other direction, too: hormonal shifts that occur in pregnancy can cause a woman's insulin sensitivity to change and for gestational diabetes to develop.

Diabetes of any kind is typically accompanied by an inflammatory immune system response.

Inflammation has been observed in the brains of children with autism as well, suggesting that this may be one of the links between the two conditions.

Added Prof Kuo: "More mechanistic studies are needed to explore how maternal conditions may shape the brain development in the womb."

The study is published in Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.

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