Exercise during pregnancy lowers risk of diabetes in offspring: study

Researchers have found that physical activity in those who are pregnant produces a protective protein that lowers diabetic risk.

Dave Yasvinski 3 minute read April 19, 2022
Sport, yoga, pregnancy, healthcare, training concept

Researchers say every effort must be made to encourage women to remain active throughout pregnancy. GETTY

A new study has found that mothers who exercise during pregnancy produce a key protein that lowers the risk of their offspring developing Type 2 diabetes.

The pre-clinical research, published in the journal Diabetes, discovered that physical exercise induced the placenta of pregnant mice to secrete a protective protein known as supuroexide dismutase 3 (SOD3). This protein lowers diabetic risk by inhibiting high-fat diet-induced abnormalities in the glucose metabolism of offspring.

“With the growth of maternal obesity, a worrying cycle is forming where the risks of diabetes get passed down from generation to generation,” said Joji Kusuyama, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at Tohoku University’s Interdisciplinary Institute for Frontier Sciences (FRIS) in Japan. “Stopping this cycle is a critical and pressing medical problem.”

Roughly 2.3 million Canadians reported a diabetes diagnosis as of 2017, according to Statistics Canada, with Type 2 diabetes accounting for 90 to 95 per cent of cases. The metabolic disease occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or is unable to properly process the insulin it does produce. In addition to increasing the risk of conditions such as heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, diabetes can also reduce quality of life through the burden of the daily management of symptoms.

2.3 million Canadians were diagnosed with diabetes in 2017

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that usually develops in childhood in which the body attacks the pancreas, preventing it from producing its own insulin. Type 2 occurs when a person’s body either does not produce enough insulin or is unable to use this insulin properly. This form of the disease usually manifests in adulthood, and while it can sometimes be managed through diet and exercise, insulin therapy is often required.

More than 30 per cent of women of childbearing age in Western and Asian countries are considered obese, according to the study. Around 630 million people are expected to be living with diabetes by 2045.

Researchers said that when pregnant women consume a diet that is high in fat, the expression of glucose metabolism genes in their offspring can be hindered. Maternal exercise reverses this effect by stimulating the production of SOD3 in the placenta. The team discovered this protective protein must be naturally produced as antioxidants capable of achieving similar results did not have the same effect as SOD3 when directly introduced to offspring.

With exercise providing a low-cost and effective method for increasing SOD3 levels and decreasing the risk of diabetes, researchers said every effort must be made to encourage women to remain active throughout pregnancy. Further study — including clinical tests — will be required to better understand the role SOD3 plays in the healthy development of human offspring.

“There may be wider benefits of this protein on other organs in the child,” Kusuyama said. “We are currently looking into the modifications in placenta tissue brought about by SOD3 that may have positive lifelong impacts on children.”

Dave Yasvinski is a writer with Healthing.ca

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