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Low vitamin B12 levels linked to diabetes in pregnancy

Asian women with a lower vitamin B12 status have been found to be more at risk of gestational diabetes, raising the possibility that changes or supplements to their diet could help prevent the condition.

New findings from the Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) study have revealed that vitamin B12, found in meat, fish and dairy foods, could play a key role in preventing pregnant mothers developing diabetes.

The collaborative research between the team at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences and Professor Keith Godfrey at the NIHR Southampton BRC is reported in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

Gestational diabetes

Insulin is a hormone critical to controlling blood sugar levels and during pregnancy some women will develop diabetes, when the body cannot produce or use insulin effectively. This gestational diabetes usually goes away after birth, but increases the risk of pre-eclampsia, premature birth, high birth weight and low blood sugar or jaundice in the baby.

Reducing the risk

Asian women are particularly at risk, with around 1 in 5 affected during their pregnancy. The latest study analysed blood test results from 913 pregnant Chinese, Malay and Indian women participating in the GUSTO study. Blood tests to measure blood sugar and vitamin B12 levels were taken at their hospital visits at 26-28 weeks of pregnancy.

In total, 48% of the women who took part had vitamin B12 insufficiency, and those who had low vitamin B12 and high folate levels were most likely to go on to develop gestational diabetes.

The link was particularly strong in Indian women. While this study did not investigate the reason for this,the higher rates of vegetarianism amongst Indian women may be a possible cause, as meat, fish and dairy foods are the primary sources of vitamin B12.

These findings, if supported by further research, could have important implications for the advice given to pregnant women to lessen the likelihood of getting gestational diabetes.

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