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Hormone May Predict Women's Gestational Diabetes Risk

Update Date: Aug 29, 2013 11:18 AM EDT

Levels of a pre-pregnancy hormone may predict a woman's gestational diabetes risk, according to a new study.

New research reveals that overweight women with low levels of the hormone adiponectin prior to pregnancy are almost seven times more likely to develop gestational diabetes.  Adiponectin, a hormone involved in regulatin glucose levels as well as fatty acid breakdown, helps protect against insulin resistance, inflammation and heart disease.

The study involved data from 4,000 mothers who gave voluntary blood samples between 1985 and 1996. Researchers found that normal-weight women with low levels of adiponectin were 3.5 times more likely to develop gestational diabetes than their normal-weight peers with normal levels of the hormone. Overweight women with high levels of adiponectin were 1.7 times as likely to develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, while those with the lowest levels of the hormone were 6.8 times more likely.

"Our findings indicate important pregnancy interventions may be possible before a woman even conceives," Monique M. Hedderson, PhD, principal investigator of the study and research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California, said in a news release. "Adiponectin levels are easy and inexpensive to measure and could potentially be used to identify women who are at risk for gestational diabetes."

Women with low adiponectin levels before pregnancy were significantly more likely to suffer diabetes. Researchers said that the risk increased among women with higher body mass indexes (BMI), even after the data was adjusted for confounding factors such as family history of diabetes, race, smoking and blood glucose and insulin levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that gestational diabetes, or glucose intolerance during pregnancy, affects between 2 percent to 10 percent of all pregnancies in the United States.  Researchers say that women who have had gestational diabetes are seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life, and their children are at greater risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes themselves. Gestational diabetes can also lead to adverse outcomes like larger-than-normal babies and subsequent delivery complications.

"Low adiponectin levels were linked with gestational diabetes even for women without traditional diabetes risk factors such as being overweight, so this could be an important clinical marker for women who may become pregnant. Adiponectin testing early in pregnancy may also help identify high-risk women who would benefit from early diagnosis and treatment of gestational diabetes." Hedderson said. "Future research is needed to determine whether lifestyle interventions targeting diet and physical activity can increase adiponectin levels."

The findings are published in the journal Diabetes Care.

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