Mother's diabetes during pregnancy means higher chance the father will get diabetes: study

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Michelle Cangemi, a Type 1 diabetic who is 7 months pregnant, poses with her daughter Marissa, 3. (AP)
Michelle Cangemi, a Type 1 diabetic who is 7 months pregnant, poses with her daughter Marissa, 3. (AP)

Gestational diabetes in a pregnant woman indicates a higher likelihood that the expectant father will also develop diabetes later on, according to new research out of McGill University.

Researchers already knew that gestational diabetes, which occurs in three to 20 per cent of all pregnancies, increases a woman’s chances by seven-fold of eventually getting Type 2 diabetes after giving birth.

But now they’ve also found a link that fathers of babies born to women who had gestational diabetes is also higher than in men of partners who didn’t develop diabetes while pregnant.

The incidence of diabetes was 33 per cent higher in men whose partner had gestational diabetes.

Dr. Kaberi Dasgupta, an endocrinologist at McGill University Health Centre and the lead author of the study published in Diabetes Care said the research began with a hypothesis: would gestational diabetes in a woman increase the chance that her partner would also get diabetes later on?

“The answer was yes. We often think diseases are largely pre-determined, genetically pre-determined and many are,” Dr. Dasgupta said. “But we wanted to demonstrate to people as a thinking point that it’s probably not just in your genes but in your environment and your home.”

The study analyzed a 13.5-year period based on health administrative data from Quebec, along with birth and death registry data.

Gestational diabetes is a strong signal that a woman should work hard to limit the risk for future development of diabetes. It goes away after pregnancy. But we should see it as a window of opportunity. It gives us an early indicator of risk for both mothers and fathers.

—Dr. Kaberi Dasgupta, endocrinologist at McGill University Health Centre

Last year, Dr. Dasgupta showed in a separate study that when one spouse is at risk for type 2 diabetes, the other spouse has a 26 per cent increase in risk for also getting the disease.

The current study is a follow-up to a separate study by Dr. Dasgupta that showed “concordance” of diabetes in spouses.

“Last year we did a major systematic review and we brought together the existing studies that looked at relationships and diabetes between husbands and wives or partners. If one partner had diabetes, there was a higher risk that the other partner would,” Dr. Dasgupta said. “It was a 26 per cent increase.”

The latest study wanted to examine a younger cohort: men who’s partners or wives had diabetes in pregnancy.

“What was novel about this was it was the first study to examine the link between gestational diabetes and the occurrence of diabetes later on in dads,” said Dr. Dasgupta. “Gestational diabetes is a strong signal that a woman should work hard to limit the risk for future development of diabetes. It goes away after pregnancy. But we should see it as a window of opportunity. It gives us an early indicator of risk for both mothers and fathers.”

A person receives a test for diabetes during Care Harbor LA free medical clinic September 11, 2014. (Reuters)
A person receives a test for diabetes during Care Harbor LA free medical clinic September 11, 2014. (Reuters)

The research results showed that because fathers and mothers are not biologically related that the likelihood of having diabetes later on was not based purely on genetics.

“What people should take away from this is if you are in a family and you’re a young family and in your active working years of life and you’re having children and there’s not time to do things, you must still look after your health,” says Dr. Dasgupta. “If the mother has gestational diabetes, the issue doesn’t end with pregnancy and it’s not just for her.”

New mothers and fathers are prone to put their own health at the bottom of the list of priorities and Dr. Dasgupta hopes the study provokes families into coming up with a concerted plan to tackle their diabetes risk.

The Canadian Diabetes Association funded the study and the association’s chief science officer Dr. Jan Hux said it helps back a key message about the vital importance of prevention.

In Canada, 3.4 million are diagnosed with diabetes and another 5.7 million are at high risk of getting the disease.

“We know there has been a connection between men with obesity but until now we weren’t aware that gestational diabetes also is an indicator of risk for men,” Hux said.

Hux said hopefully new parents become aware that their own health is at risk for later complications and gestational diabetes is an indicator that they need to start exercising more and eating healthier together even if they’re caring for a newborn.

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