"We are born to be fit, strong, and healthy." Robb Wolf

April 16, 2011

Gestational Diabetes (Part 1)

I have a couple of friends/family that have developed this all too common "disease" that seems to only affect women (thankfully). If you haven't guessed by the title, the "disease" I refer to is pregnancy. Hahaha. I know. I know. It's not a disease. Women only have this alien-like creature mature inside of them feeding off of the nutrients that the mother is taking in. Hmmm... Kind of like a parasite. Then this "alien" grows up to be an attractive person like you.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes (GD) is a form of diabetes that occurs for the first time in a pregnant woman who was previously healthy. Diabetes is a condition where the body’s pancreas does not secrete enough or any insulin (type I diabetes mellitus [DM]) or the body can’t use the sugar in the blood (type II DM).

images courtesy of My Healthy Horizon

GD frequently occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy. Consuming too many carbohydrates (especially foods with fructose), consuming grains and beans of any quantity, sleep deprivation, and stress promote the onset of GD. There are very few, if any, symptoms leading towards DM. It is usually diagnosed by screening during pregnancy. Blood work indicates an abnormally high amount of glucose. In the United States, 1 out of every 25-30 women develop GD.

During pregnancy, the mother becomes more resistant to insulin. Insulin resistance is a physiological condition where insulin is no longer effective in transporting glucose to cells to be used as energy, thereby keeping blood sugar levels high.

A lot of soon-to-be-mothers think that being pregnant means they can eat whatever they please. This is a poor attitude/mentality to take because it will be the fetus that suffers the most by the poor decisions. This lays down the high potential for the child to be prone to poor insulin control, DM, and other medical issues throughout life.

Following a Paleolithic-type way of eating is best for both mom and baby. Anyone who institutes this style of eating does not suffer from insulin resistance. Many of the body’s tissues use fat as energy, not carbohydrates. Those who do not eat cleaner rely on sugar for energy, no fat. This means the mother must eat more in order to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Eating less clean means that the mother is consuming more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. This leads to inflammation and a host of other complications. Our brains, and the fetus’ brain, rely on omega-3 fatty acids to grow and maintain its health. The fetus will use up what the mother has for omega-3 fatty acids so it’s brain can grow. This leaves the mother with very low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Research has found that this is one of the reasons why women suffer from post-partum depression.

What does this mean for the baby?

The fetus is at risk of becoming overdeveloped in utero. This can cause multiple complications at birth for both the child and mother. The infant can also develop hypoglycemia immediately after birth or be jaundiced (yellowish skin). The jaundice develops because the infant’s body cannot process the blood fast enough that bilirubin (released when red blood cells are destroyed and build up in the blood) accumulates turning the skin and white of the eyes yellow. These children are prone to childhood obesity and type II DM later in life, as mentioned earlier.

What does this mean for mom?

After birth, for most women, the GD disappears. However, they are at an increased risk of developing type II DM after pregnancy. And the risk is even higher of developing GD during a future pregnancy. If the infant is too large, then the mother will have to undergo a Caesarian section rather than have a natural birth.

Hyperinsulinism has been found decrease the levels of sex hormone binding protein. This allows for more estrogen to be available contributing to female infertility.

If anyone has any comments/information to add/share please feel free in the comments section.

Stay tuned for Part 2. Part 2 will touch on how GD develops, risk factors, preventative strategies, and treatment options.