Males born to obese mothers are more likely to be overweight at birth and suffer from metabolic problems later in life, such as liver disease or diabetes.
The way male sex hormones activate pathways in the developing liver is partly to blame.
That’s the finding from a new study led by University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers looking at the effect of maternal obesity on fetal liver androgen signaling.
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Male fetuses of obese pregnant women have different signals activated by male liver hormones that encourage them to prioritize growth over health.
UniSA researcher Dr Ashley Meakin says androgens give men their male characteristics and are vital to their development, but if there are too many, male fetuses grow too large, causing not only problems at birth, but affecting liver function as adults.
Female fetuses exposed to excess testosterone from an obese pregnancy are linked to disable the androgen pathway in the liver, limiting their growth and reducing the risks of metabolic disorders in adulthood.
“We know that there are gender differences in metabolic disturbances in later life in response to maternal obesity,” says Dr. Meakin.
“Men are more prone to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as adults as well if their mother is obese during pregnancy and their birth weight is more than 4kg (9lb 15oz).
“They are genetically hardwired to prioritize androgen because it supports the development of male characteristics – including size – but too much androgen is bad.”
Lead study author Professor Janna Morrison, Head of the Early Origins of Adult Health Research Group at UniSA, says it’s a fine balance for women to get the right nutrition during pregnancy to ensure optimal conditions for the baby to flourish. their unborn child.
“There are also risks of malnutrition in the offspring during pregnancy,” she says. “If you’re too young, too old, born too early or male, you’re more vulnerable to negative outcomes later in life. You need the Goldilocks pregnancy: you need to be the right size, born at the right time.”
Professor Morrison says that unless society changes its approach to nutrition, it will be an uphill battle to reduce obesity and related health problems, from the womb to adulthood.
“As a society, we urgently need to tackle obesity. If children were taught from an early age about the importance of healthy eating, it would continue into adulthood, even during pregnancy, when proper nutrition is so important.”
Dr. Meakin says that in the interim, supplements that address nutritional imbalances in pregnancy could provide the fetus with the best chance for optimal growth.
The liver androgen signaling study, published recently in Life Sciences, is one of a series of studies by Professor Morrison and colleagues investigating the impact of maternal under- and overnutrition on the placenta, heart, lungs and liver.
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