- Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy.
- People diagnosed with gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
- A recent study shows that the introduction of certain lifestyle practices among women with gestational diabetes is associated with a 90% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- The results were also valid for women who were overweight or had a higher genetic risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Pregnancy can present a number of unique challenges and health concerns.
Pregnant people and their fetuses require various forms of monitoring throughout their pregnancy to ensure healthy pregnancies and deliveries. One condition that women are monitored for is gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. People with gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
A recent study published by BMJ looked at modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes in women with a history of gestational diabetes.
The researchers found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreased among women who used certain healthy lifestyle practices.
This risk assessment also applied to women who were overweight or had a higher genetic risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes risk
Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops explicitly during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can be caused by existing insulin resistance and increased insulin resistance associated with hormonal changes and fat gains during pregnancy.
Approximately 6-9% of women develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Doctors in the United States may recommend testing for gestational diabetes around 6 months after pregnancy, as this is the most likely time to develop gestational diabetes.
After the end of pregnancy, blood sugar levels usually return to a healthy range. However, those who have had gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Dr. Wiyatta Freeman, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist at UT Physicians Women’s Center and Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital in Houston, Texas, who was not involved in the study, told MNT that a history of gestational diabetes “predicts an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and even type 1 diabetes.”
Therefore, people with gestational diabetes should schedule regular check-ups with their doctor to assess the development of type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Dr. Kay Lovig, an endocrinologist at White Plains Hospital Physicians Associates in New York, who was not involved in the study, explained to Medical News Today:
“Gestational diabetes is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. During pregnancy, hormones produced by the placenta lead everyone to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means that your body doesn’t respond as efficiently to the insulin you produce to maintain normal blood sugar… People with gestational diabetes have increased insulin resistance compared to people who don’t develop gestational diabetes. As a result, those with gestational diabetes have a higher lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is also due to insulin resistance.”
Researchers are still investigating how best to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in people with gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes and modifiable risk factors
In this particular study, five modifiable risk factors were examined in women who had a history of gestational diabetes:
- no overweight or obesity
- a high-quality diet
- exercise regularly
- drink moderate amounts of alcohol
- Don’t smoke
The study included over 4,000 Nurses’ Health Study II participants. The researchers followed the participants for an average of almost 28 years. During this follow-up period, 924 participants developed type 2 diabetes.
They found that participants with optimal scores in all five categories had a over 90% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
They found that “each additional optimally modifiable factor was associated with an incrementally lower risk of type 2 diabetes.”
The risk combination also applied to women who were overweight or obese or had a higher genetic risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Sherry Roberts, a registered dietitian and certified specialist in diabetes care and education who was not involved in the research, shared her thoughts on the study with MNT:
“I think the study was well done and thorough as it followed. nurses who had gestational diabetes for almost 28 years. The changeable risk factors of not being overweight or obese, a high-quality diet, regular exercise, moderate alcohol consumption and smoking ban were examined. Overall results show that women who were able to maintain optimal levels of modification have a lower risk of developing diabetes. The clinical implications of this study also demonstrate the importance of maintaining healthy habits to prevent type 2 diabetes. It also shows how important it is to offer prevention programs and support for those who are trying to prevent type 2 diabetes.”
Limitations and continued research
The study had some limitations. For example, it was an observational study so the results can’t determine the cause. The researchers relied on participants’ self-reporting, which increased a certain risk of error.
The authors excluded non-white participants, who were likely largely of European descent, which may limit the applicability of the data to other ethnic groups. It also points to the need for more diverse cohorts for longitudinal studies in the future.
The study also looked specifically at physical activity due to leisure activities. The researchers note that further data could explore how other physical activities, such as work-related activities, could be examined more closely in the future.
They also had no data on the severity of the participants’ gestational diabetes or their baseline blood sugar control scores.
Finally, based on data collection methods and participants, the full benefits of these healthy lifestyle choices can be underestimated. Overall, the results show how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, particularly among people at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Roberts pointed out the following areas for further research:
“Additional tests should be carried out for women with gestational diabetes who have no health background and are part of the general population. Similar research should also be carried out on children born to mothers with gestational diabetes.”