A B12 deficiency in pregnant women could raise the risk of their children developing metabolic problems such as type 2 diabetes, a new study has shown.
B12 is a vitamin that naturally occurs in animal products such as eggs, meat, fish, and dairy. It serves many functions in the body, including making DNA and helping keep our nerve and red blood cells healthy.
Previous studies have shown a correlation between women with a B12 deficiency having a higher BMI and giving birth to children with lower birth weights, higher cholesterol levels, and higher insulin resistance, which is a risk-factor for type 2 diabetes.
Researchers at the University of Warwick thought these changes associated with a B12 deficiency might actually be the result of abnormal levels of leptin. Their study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, was presented as preliminary findings at the Society for Endocrinology’s annual conference being held this week in the UK.
Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells that let our brain know when we are full after eating, often referred to as the “satiety hormone”. It works together with ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, by inhibiting hunger and helping regulate our appetite.
A healthy diet produces normal levels of leptin, however obesity can cause leptin levels to rise and remain high, which means the brain is not getting the message we are full. This can lead to continued overeating, a higher risk of insulin resistance, and thus a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers found that babies born to mothers with low levels of vitamin B12 had higher-than-normal leptin levels.
“We know that children born to under or over nourished mothers are at an increased risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, and we also see that maternal B12 deficiency may affect fat metabolism and contribute to this risk,“ said Dr Ponusammy Saravanan, senior author of the study, in a statement. “This is why we decided to investigate leptin, the fat cell hormone.”
A B12 deficiency is more often found in those who follow a vegan diet, though it can occur in anyone who doesn’t have a particularly healthy or balanced diet. Luckily, it can be improved by changing your diet, or supplemented through injections, although the longer it is undiagnosed, the more permanent the damage can be.
This new discovery could spur a review of the current B12 requirements for pregnant women, with doctors helping women supplement their diet if need be to help reduce the risk of metabolic issues in their offspring.
“The nutritional environment provided by the mother can permanently program the baby’s health,” said Dr Saravanan. Basically, the more we know, and the earlier we know it, the better.