New research has found that children may be more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder if their mother had diabetes during pregnancy.
Nobody wants to hear that they have just been diagnosed with diabetes, but it is particularly scary for a pregnant woman. Gestational diabetes is dangerous to both the mother-to-be and the fetus, with increased risk of having a large, difficult to deliver baby and post-pregnancy diabetes for the mom. Now, there’s another health issue that can be added to that risk list. New research has found that children may be more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder if their mother had diabetes during pregnancy.
The study, conducted at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, New York, focused on 212 participating children from Queens, New York.1 The group had varied economic and ethnic backgrounds, and ten percent of the children’s mothers had gestational diabetes during their pregnancies. All of the children were tested by a psychologist for signs of ADHD every year, from the time they were in preschool through the age of 6.
The researchers discovered that gestational diabetes was indeed a risk factor for ADHD, with the children whose mothers had the condition twice as likely as the rest of the group to be diagnosed with ADHD at 6 years old. The other risk factor that presented itself was poverty. Even without gestational diabetes, the children who came from lower-earning households were twice as likely as their peers to have ADHD at 6. When these two risk factors were combined, however, the rates skyrocketed. The 6-year-olds whose mothers had gestational diabetes and who were in a lower socioeconomic bracket had 14 times the risk of developing ADHD over the children without either risk factor.
Gestational diabetes is a fairly common complication of pregnancy, affecting approximately five percent of mothers-to-be in the United States. Pregnant women typically take a blood glucose test at the end of the second or beginning of the third trimester to determine whether they have gestational diabetes, so it is often discovered as the brain of the fetus is rapidly developing. The high levels of blood sugar within the mother’s bloodstream may have lasting effects on the fetus in the womb and beyond. As the baby’s body absorbs this excess blood sugar, it is suspected that it may damage the central nervous system.
According to the “experts,” the socioeconomic influence is likely a result of less access to medical care, early childhood education, and intervention services when necessary. Then again, what about diet? Fast food restaurants tend to concentrate in poorer neighborhoods, and supermarkets with fresh fruits and vegetables tend to avoid them. Plus, the poorer women in the study may not have gotten their diabetes under control during pregnancy as well as the wealthier participants for economic reasons such as not being able to afford enough fresh, healthy foods and lack of education and understanding of the disease. In fact, living in an economically deprived neighborhood is just plain bad for your health and longevity.
So what can be done?
Instead of trying to medicate pregnant women with a diagnosis of diabetes, which might have its own negative consequences for the fetus, the medical establishment should attempt to teach those with the disease how they can improve their blood sugar levels naturally. Eating right and exercising can, in many cases, get these levels back down to the normal range. Even living in a poor neighborhood, there are better choices that can be made. Chicken doesn’t have to be deep fried. It can be broiled. You don’t have to use corn oil; you can use olive oil. You can drink more water and less soda — and even save money in the process. Even a minimal amount of exercise not only takes pounds off, but slashes diabetes risk. If you don’t have access to a gym or exercise equipment, you can always walk. And take the stairs instead of an elevator — if your building has one. And if nothing else, you can always put an exercise program you like on your DVD and sweat along with it. A 2009 National Institutes of Health study found that those who had exercised for 30 minutes at least four times in the previous week had almost half the incidence of diabetes compared to those who hadn’t done any exercise.2 And another 2009 study, published in The Lancet, showed that lifestyle changes trump drugs in diabetes prevention.3 The researchers followed 3,000 pre-diabetic patients for 10 years and discovered that lifestyle modifications resulting in a weight loss of even a few pounds were roughly twice as effective as medications. (Curious as to why they didn’t check the benefits of a low glycemic diet.) Those who exercised 30 minutes five times a week plus stuck to a low-fat diet reduced diabetes incidence by 34 percent over the time period compared to a control group that implemented no changes.
If you are pregnant and have been sedentary, talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. You may need to start off slowly. But whether you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you will avoid all kinds of problems both for yourself and your baby-to-be if you are eating a healthful, nutritious diet and working out regularly.
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1 Gardner, Amanda. “Diabetes during pregnancy may raise ADHD risk.” CNN Health. 3 January 2012. Accessed 27 February 2012. <http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/02/health/diabetes-pregnancy-adhd-risk/index.html>.
2 “Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study Questions & Answers.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. October 2009. Accessed 27 February 2012. <http://www2.niddk.nih.gov/Research/ClinicalResearch/DPPOS/QA.htm>.
3 Boyles, Salynn. “Diet Beats Drugs for Diabetes Prevention.” WebMD. 28 October 2009. Accessed 27 February 2012. <http://diabetes.webmd.com/news/20091028/diet-beats-drugs-for-diabetes-prevention>.