February 18th, 2019

Stress in pregnancy impacts children

By Bobinec, Greg on September 9, 2018.

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald


Researches in a new study at the University of Lethbridge and McGill University have provided further confirmation that stress experienced by a pregnant woman has a lasting impact on the health of their children.

The study, published in Nature – Scientific Reports, by Gerlinde Mets, a neuroscientist at the Canadian Centre for Behavioral Neuroscience, in collaboration with Tony Montina, a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) manager, and several students, was completed on 32 adolescents, male and female, born to mothers who lived through the Great Ice Storm of 1988. NMR spectroscopy is done on urine samples which showed higher sicks of metabolic illness such as insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity later in life.

The Great Ice Storm hit North America, particularly in eastern Ontario and southern Quebec leaving more than four million people without electricity, some of them for more than a month. Suzanne King, a professor of psychiatry at McGill, in the aftermath of the storm wanted to build an understanding about the effect of prenatal exposures to stress on children’s future development. Nearly 180 pregnant women signed up and researchers have been monitoring their children’s development in subsequent years.

“In this study, two metabolic pathways were affected in both males and females,” says Montina in a press release. “These pathways are implicated throughout the literature and all the studies in the risk of the development of diabetes and obesity.”

With the results pointing to health risks for offspring later in life, Metz says identifying risks to health is the first step to creating effective therapeutic interventions to help minimize them.

“If predisposition to these diseases has been programmed through adverse experience, potentially we can mitigate this risk by beneficial experiences,” says Metz. “So, we hope that through environmental and lifestyle interventions and recommendations, we can reduce the risk of these diseases early on before they come on board.”

Similar results have been previously shown in epigenetic studies but the benefits of studying urine samples, blood, saliva or even hair samples, is that they can provide the same results using noninvasive techniques that is far less expensive than epigenetic testing.

“Metabolomic downstream biomarkers that are much easier to obtain in a clinical setting, much cheaper to work with and to process and analyze, hold great potential to triage and diagnose these children who are at risk of developing diseases later in life due to adverse experiences in utero or early in life,” says Montina.

The research study is very timely, given climate change and the increasing rate of natural disasters such as wildfires, floods and hurricanes.

“We are moving towards personalized medicine and preventative medicine that can help to intervene early in a lifetime,” says Metz. “We do have adverse environments, such as pollutants in the air and water, and adverse experiences that interact with our health. We really need to push forward in understanding how the environment interacts with our health at the basic research level. We also have to take the health-care research step and try to understand, at the biomedical stream of investigation, how we can predict these diseases, diagnose them and intervene.”

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