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Does Diabetes Run In The Family?

Does Diabetes Run In The Family?According to a Tufts expert, new research on diabetes may change the way doctors attempt to prevent the disease. Boston.

Boston [06.09.03] Women with diabetes may need to be extra careful if they are considering having a child. According to a new study, children born to women with one type of diabetes may be at a higher risk of developing another form of the disease. The findings, says Tufts' Dr. Andrew Greenberg, come at an important time and may help doctors slow the spread of the disease.

"In a small study, [French] researchers discovered that adult children of mothers who had type 1 diabetes - which normally strikes in childhood - were more likely to develop a condition that often precedes type 2 diabetes, the form of the disease that largely affects adults," reported Reuters.

Type 2 diabetes - which affects more than 14 million people world wide - impairs the body's ability to produce insulin, which converts food into energy. It is the most common form of the disease and is expected to spread.

"[It] is a growing epidemic in developed countries, but the current burden may pale in comparison with the forecast estimated for developing countries during the next few decades," Greenberg wrote in an editorial for the medical journal Lancet that he co-authored with Tufts' nutrition and genomics expert Dr. Jose Ordovas and Tufts School of Medicine endocrinologist and faculty member, Dr, Anastassios Pittas.

If the disease continues to spread, it could have significant economic and public health consequences.

"Although estimates vary, the dramatic increase in the prevalence of diabetes may cancel out many of the health benefits achieved during the past few decades from reducing other risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension and hypercholestroalaemia," the Tufts experts wrote in Lancet. "Prevention strategies have been advocated to reduce the staggering cost to public-health systems and the personal suffering associated with the disease."

While the French study only sampled a small number of participants, a Tufts expert in insulin resistance called the results "enticing." If the findings are true, Greenberg says doctors may have a new window of opportunity for reducing type 2 diabetes.

"Prevention of diabetes may need to be started as early as possible, starting with improving the metabolic status of the mother before conception and during pregnancy," Greenberg and colleagues wrote in Lancet. "Such measures could contribute to reducing the epidemic of diabetes and its complications in the years to come."

According to Greenberg, a faculty member in both the School of Medicine and Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, mothers with diabetes need to be particularly vigilant of their disease while pregnant.

"[Greenberg said] mothers who have their diabetes under better control - perhaps through treatment, diet and exercise - might also be less likely to predispose their children to the condition," reported Reuters. "He added that preparing a diabetic's womb for pregnancy might involve getting her blood sugar under control as much as possibly before she has even conceived, in case the pregnancy is unexpected."

But not every child of a diabetic mother develops type 2 diabetes.

"Greenberg and his colleagues point out that most children of diabetic mothers did not develop impaired glucose tolerance [which precedes type 2 diabetes] - possible on account of other genetic factors that protected them from the condition," reported Reuters.

The new research appears to provide more evidence that the long-term health of an adult has a strong link to the processes that take place in the womb.

"The data support the importance of the intrauterine environment, a period in which a human being is experiencing the most dramatic changes that will occur during his or her entire lifetime, as a determinant of adult health," the Tufts team wrote.

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