A Chinese study group investigated the effects of the Chinese famine of 1959-1962 on those who were prenatally affected by the famine, and their offspring, and found that both generations had a higher risk for hyperglycemia and the first generation had a higher risk to type 2 diabetes.
Prenatal nutrition has a critical role on health later in life. Suboptimal intrauterine conditions may affect glucose metabolism in the long run and these effects may extend to the second generation as well. Episodes of famine in a county`s history, such as the Chinese famine of 1959-1961 may be used as a natural experiment to assess the effects of famine on glucose metabolism.
In a research article, recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study group investigated how the Chinese famine of 1959-1961 affected the glucose metabolism of the first (F1) and second (F2) generation. They included both affected and unaffected participants and their offspring and checked their basic characteristics, BMI, fasting glucose (FBG) and 2 hours blood glucose (2h-Glu) levels after an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). 47.5% of F1 were exposed to famine prenatally, while 75% of F2 had at least one exposed parent. In the first generation, exposure was associated with higher BMI, FBG and 2h-Glu, and when adjusted for BMI, exposure to famine was still associated with a higher FBG and 2h-Glu. However, in the second generation, this association was only true in those participants whose parents were both exposed. In both generations, the prevalence of hyperglycemia was almost 2-fold in the exposed group, compared to the unexposed participants. The prevalence of type-2 diabetes was also higher in the exposed group in F1, but not in F2, probably because of the relatively young age of this group.
In conclusion, the study has proven that prenatal exposure to famine affects not just those exposed, but the consecutive generation’s glucose metabolism as well, which supports the theory that prenatal nutrition is critical for the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes across generations.
Written By: Dr. Fanni R. Eros