Pregnant B12 Deficient Mothers May Increase Baby's Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Monday, November 21st, 2016
Mothers with a B12 deficiency have been shown to have higher body mass index and are more likely to give birth to babies with low birthweight and high cholesterol levels. New findings show that in addition to these health risks, a lack of B12 during pregnancy may predispose children to metabolic problems, such as type 2 diabetes.

Researchers in a recent study hypothesized that these changes associated with a deficiency of B12 may be the result of abnormal leptin levels.

In obese individuals, leptin levels remain consistently higher than normal. These higher levels can eventually lead to leptin resistance, overeating, and an increased risk of insulin resistance, which causes type 2 diabetes. Because of this, leptin is thought of as an effective marker for body fat.

The preliminary results of the study, which was presented at the Society for Endocrinology’s annual conference in Brighton, showed that infants born to mothers with B12 deficiency had higher levels of leptin than normal.

These findings suggest that maternal B12 deficiency can adversely program the leptin gene and change the levels of hormone production during the growth of the fetus.

“The nutritional environment provided by the mother can permanently program the baby’s health,” said senior study author Ponusammy Saravanan. “We know that children born to under or over nourished mothers are at an increased risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, and we also see that maternal B12 deficiency may affect fat metabolism and contribute to this risk. This is why we decided to investigate leptin, the fat cell hormone.”

Next, researchers will examine exactly how and why leptin increases in babies born from mothers with low B12.

“The leptin can increase for 2 reasons, either low B12 drives fat accumulation in the fetus, and this leads to increased leptin, or the low B12 actually causes chemical changes in the placental genes that produce leptin, making more of the hormone,” said researcher Adaikala Antonysunil. “As B12 is involved in methylation reactions in the body which can affect whether genes are turned on and off, we suspect it may be the latter.”

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