Gestational diabetes is a pregnancy-induced form of high blood sugar that affects up to 10 percent of all pregnancies in the US, according to recent statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Risk factors for gestational diabetes include everything from being overweight when you become pregnant, to age (over 35), to carrying multiples.
Much is known about how to manage gestational diabetes through diet, exercise and the use of insulin, if necessary, for moms-to-be who develop the condition. But how much do we know about how to prevent it? Is that even possible?
According to a new study from researchers in Italy, taking a daily supplement of a natural substance call myo-inositol, available in the US without a prescription for around $10 a bottle, could cut the number of cases of gestational diabetes by more than half.
As Reuters Health reports, researchers selected 220 pregnant women with a family history of type 2 diabetes, another risk factor for gestational diabetes, to participate in the study. Half the women were given two grams of myo-inositol supplements twice a day along with the recommended amount of folic acid, a supplement recommended for all pregnant women. The other women were given only folic acid, from the end of the first trimester throughout pregnancy.
Of the women who took myo-inositol, only six percent developed gestational diabetes, compared to 15 percent of the women who only took folic acid.
Gestational diabetes, when left untreated, can lead to larger babies, which in turn can lead to birth complications. Could it really be that this supplement is finally the "magic pill" that will eliminate the need for so many women to worry about their blood sugar ?
For now, results have certainly piqued the interest of doctors, who see an estimated 400,000 cases of gestational diabetes each year. However, what's not known at this time is whether the supplement is truly safe to take during pregnancy. Prenatal researchers stress that no recommendation about the supplement can be made until larger studies can be carried out.
"The results are promising, but we would need a larger trial and a broader group of women before we could recommend this supplement," Dr. Wanda Nicholson, a gestational diabetes researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells Reuters Health.
Curious about giving myo-inositol a try? The compound is also found in fruits, nuts, grains, and meats, though at lower levels. Still, including these foods as part of a healthy prenatal can't hurt—and, of course, can help provide vital nutrients you and your baby need during pregnancy.
It's also worth noting that this study is not the last word on what may work to prevent gestational diabetes. A 2010 study from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that exercising before pregnancy cut the risk for developing gestational diabetes by up to 50 percent. But even women who waited to exercise until they became pregnant benefited—exercising during the early stages of pregnancy reduced the risk for gestational diabetes by a quarter, the same Harvard study found.
What else can work? Entering pregnancy at a healthy weight, since obesity can contribute to problems with how efficiently the body uses insulin to control blood sugar. And perhaps more surprisingly? Brushing your teeth! A few years ago, a New York University dental research team discovered evidence that pregnant women with periodontal (gum) disease are more likely to develop gestational diabetes mellitus than pregnant women with healthy gums.
So let's see, lose the extra weight before you become pregnant, eat nuts and fruit, exercise, and see your dentist... does that cover it? Despite all that we know, for many moms who develop the condition, there still seems to be so much that science just doesn't understand about the condition.
"I eat a painfully healthy diet, don't have a weight problem, don't think I've ever missed a six-month dental check up, and [before becoming pregnant] jogged two miles a day for most of my adult life," says 38-year-old Valerie Franklin, who is pregnant with twins after undergoing fertility treatments.
"My doctor said my age and having twins probably put me at risk but, really, it's essentially out of anyone's control whether or not they develop gestational diabetes."
But she adds, "I hope science keeps trying to solve this puzzle because counting carbs and testing my blood sugar all the time is a drag. If I decide to have more babies, it would nice to take this one particular worry off the table. Please, researchers, get on it!"