Food and Behaviour Research

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Mother's high-fructose diet may lead to foetal metabolic disorders: Study

by Will Chu


Once again, a study shows that mothers' consumption of fructose during pregnancy leads to negative effects on the offspring's health in later life - priming them for increased risks of obesity and associated metabolic problems.

Furthermore, the doses of fructose used in this study were specifically chosen to mimic the concentrations found in most soft drinks.

As usual, for ethical and practical reasons, this study was carried out in animals - and obviously that limits the generalisability of the findings to humans.  However, findings from more naturalistic and observational studies in humans are consistent with what this study shows.

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A high-fructose diet during pregnancy may lead to the foetus developing hypertension, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and obesity in later life, a study reports.

The news may not come as a surprise to many as maternal nutrition, obesity, and metabolic disorders have been heavily linked with offspring development of metabolic syndrome, obesity, and CVD later in life.

However, the findings are especially relevant as the study used a 10% concentration of fructose to mimic the percentage of fructose in the majority of fructose-sweetened soft drinks available today.

Despite recent animal studies showing a link between high-fructose diet and altered metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids , the effects of high fructose intake in pregnancy on cardiovascular and metabolic dysfunction have yet to be investigated.

Experimental conditions

Using pregnant mice for their experiments, the team from the University of Texas, gave the animals either a fructose solution (10%) or water to drink.

This remained the animal’s only source of fluid from the start of pregnancy to delivery.  After weaning, the offspring then began a typical chow diet and were reassessed at 12 months, with measurements of visceral adipose tissue and liver fat and blood pressure carried out.

The scientists also conducted glucose tolerance testing via the abdomen and recorded insulin concentrations as well as serum concentrations of glucose, insulin, triglycerides, total cholesterol, leptin, and adiponectin.

They found that the maternal weight, offspring number, and average weight at birth were similar between the 2 groups.

However, offspring from the fructose group had higher peak glucose levels and higher average arterial pressure compared with the control group.

Female fructose group offspring were heavier and had higher percent visceral adipose tissue, liver fat, insulin levels and serum concentrations of leptin.

Lower concentrations of adiponectin compared to female control offspring were also recorded. Low adiponectin levels have been recognised as a predictor of impaired glucose regulation and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Interestingly, no significant differences in these parameters were noted in male offspring as were serum concentrations of triglycerides or cholesterol between the 2 groups for either gender.

“We hypothesised that maternal exposure to high-fructose diet during critical foetal development leads to foetal programming of adult cardiometabolic dysfunction,” the study commented.

“Our hypothesis is supported by our results, as well as others’ data showing foetal exposure to high-carbon sugars leads to offspring metabolic-like syndrome . This foetal programming was more pronounced in female offspring.”

Fructose overconsumption

The results from this study highlight the dangers of fructose use as a sweetener in many food items. It’s popularity is driven mainly by its sweet taste and cheap cost.

Previous studies that featured animals consuming 10-15% weight/volume fructose developed metabolic abnormalities including altered hepatic insulin sensitivity , fatty liver disease, and lipid dysregulation.

The association between fructose diet and obesity is also supported by other lines of evidence. For example the disrupted function and development of adipose tissue has been blamed on the toxic effect of fructose on brain development during gestation.

Other studies have shown that gestational diabetes can lead to metabolic disruption in adult children. When compared to normal gestation periods, offspring born to diabetic mothers have higher insulin resistance later in life.