It has long been known that obesity impairs metabolism and predisposes to diabetes and heart disease. New research shows that the effects of maternal obesity even pass across generations to offspring, accelerating the rate of aging of metabolic problems that occur in normal life.
Researchers studied offspring of obese rat mothers, observing the former throughout their lives -- puberty, early adult life, late adult life and early aging -- to determine the rate at which they aged. Offspring of obese mothers had more body fat and showed early prediabetic signs such as an early rise in insulin resistance, increasing susceptibility to diabetes.
Offspring of the obese mothers showed impaired function of their mitochondria, the power stations of cells that generate the energy cells need to function properly. These changes make it more likely that organisms will develop heart disease.
Interestingly, some of the unwanted outcomes resulting from maternal obesity were different in male and female offspring. The reason for this is not clear, but it is thought to be hormonal in nature. Encouragingly, exercise by the offspring improves many of the poor offspring outcomes that result from maternal obesity.
“These new findings add to the accumulating evidence for the influence of conditions in the womb and early life on the offspring’s health and susceptibility to diseases throughout life,” says Nathanielsz, co-lead researcher.
For example, earlier research by Nathanielsz and colleagues indicated that an obese pregnant mother and exposure to a high-fat, high-sugar diet during pregnancy produces a “fatty liver” in the fetus, potentially predisposing children to obesity, metabolic and cardiovascular disorders later in life. Another study found that the child of a slightly undernourished mother is more likely to suffer early aging of the heart.
Rodríguez‐González et al. (2019). Maternal obesity accelerates rat offspring metabolic aging in a sex dependent manner. The Journal of Physiology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1113/JP278232
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