Will feeding mothers prevent the Asian metabolic syndrome epidemic?


  • W Philip T James MD, DSc, FRCP, RSE

W Philip T James, 231 North Gower Street, London NW1 2NS, UK.
Tel: +44 20 7691 1900; Fax: +44 20 7387 6033
Email: jeanhjames@aol.com


Evolutionary pressures have probably amplified the mechanisms for minimizing the impact of environmental factors through compensatory maternal mechanisms. Nevertheless, experimentally there are clear long-term programming effects of manipulations to the maternal diet on the likelihood of neural-tube defects associated with folate deficiency The fat/lean ratios of the newborn, and subsequent development, seem to be linked to amino acid or folate supply. An altered balance in the hypothalamic−pituitary−adrenal axis, which experimentally has profound effects on brain development, is induced by low-protein maternal diets. Such diets are linked to a reduced pancreatic capacity for insulin production and to an altered hepatic architecture, with a change in the control of glucose metabolism. Human studies suggest that what happens in pregnancy is modified by the child's diet in the first months of life. Low birthweight is linked to early stunting, and predisposes to abdominal obesity and metabolic syndrome in later life. Metabolic syndrome amplifies the risks of diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and probably some cancers. Mothers with gestational diabetes are themselves prone to early type 2 diabetes and produce heavier babies prone to childhood obesity and adolescent type 2 diabetes. There is increasing evidence of an intergenerational effect, with big babies being prone to excess weight gain, which then, in girls, predisposes them to diabetes in pregnancy, which, in turn, promotes an accelerating cycle of early diabetes in subsequent generations. Essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins are important, but we need early interventions and monitoring systems to justify coherent policies.