Diets high in fructose - a sugar that occurs naturally in honey, fruit, and some vegetables - are becoming increasingly common, especially because of calorically sweetened beverages such as sodas and certain fruit juices. As rates of maternal obesity increase, so do rates of gestational diabetes. Consequently, researchers have become more concerned about the effects of maternal nutrition on the risk of disease in offspring.
In order to investigate the impact of maternal nutrition on offspring, researchers studied female rats that were impregnated and given a diet of either water or a fructose solution. The researchers found that fetuses in the fructose-fed rats had higher levels of leptin (an important hormone in the regulation of energy intake and expenditure), fructose, and blood glucose. However, male fetuses in the fructose-fed rats did not show increased leptin, fructose, and blood glucose levels.
The researchers also found that both male and female offspring of fructose-fed rats were hypoinsulinemic (having abnormally low blood insulin levels) and had higher levels of plasma fructose. Furthermore, the placenta of female fetuses in the fructose-fed rats was found to be lighter than that of the female fetuses in the water-fed rats.
According to lead author Mark Vickers, Ph.D., from the University of Auckland, diets high in fructose-sweetened beverages and foods have become very common, especially among women of reproductive age. This new research gives cause for concern, as it is the first time that a study has indicated that female and male fetuses are affected differently by the amount of fructose in a pregnant mother's diet.
In light of this new finding, more research must be conducted in order to understand how maternal fructose consumption affects the long-term health and well-being of offspring as they grow from childhood into adulthood, according to Deborah Sloboda, Ph.D., from the University of Auckland and co-author of the study.
The study's results will appear in the journal Endocrinology.