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11 November 2019

Impaired liver function during pregnancy may increase risk of childhood obesity

Research from King’s has shown that impaired liver function during pregnancy may alter gut bacteria composition and increase the risk of obesity in children.

pregnant lady

In the study, presented today at the Society for Endocrinology Annual Conference, researchers used a mouse model with intrahepatic cholestasis (ICP) and examined the composition of gut bacteria in offspring and liver function.

Dr Caroline Ovadia from the School of Life Course Sciences and colleagues investigated how gut microbiota are affected in the offspring of a mouse model with ICP. The results showed that the offspring had a different gut microbiome composition and impaired liver function, particularly when fed a high-fat diet, which could contribute to impaired metabolism and increase the risk of obesity.

These findings further suggest that health during pregnancy can have long-term health effects on children, and in this case how gut microbiome alterations may increase the risk of obesity in children on a Western-style, high-fat diet

Dr Caroline Ovadia

These findings suggest that mothers at risk should maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy and that interventions to normalise gut bacteria may help reduce childhood obesity rates in the future.

Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) is a liver disorder affecting approximately 5,500 pregnancies annually in the UK. The condition causes a build-up of bile acids in the blood, and symptoms include itching, often severe. An increase in bile acid is associated with an increased risk of stillbirth, preterm birth, and neonatal unit admission.

Previous studies suggest that children of women with ICP are more likely to develop childhood obesity. Growing evidence suggests the importance of the gut microbiome for good metabolic health and that altered composition can lead to impaired metabolism and weight gain. No previous studies have investigated the effects of ICP during pregnancy on the gut microbiome of either mothers or their children. Understanding how ICP may lead to obesity in children could help prevent the risk of developing this serious and life-limiting condition.

The results suggest that mice born to mothers with ICP, or other liver diseases, may benefit from maintaining a healthy diet and should avoid fatty foods. These findings also suggest that targeting microbiome composition with treatment strategies in pregnant women, such as using pre-biotics or pro-biotics, could help prevent the risk of child obesity.

“Understanding changes in the composition of the gut microbiome and their effects may provide new ways of diagnosing patients at particular risk of obesity before it occurs. We could then develop personalised medicine and target appropriate treatments to alter gut bacteria accordingly,” Dr Ovadia adds.


In this story

Caroline  Ovadia

Clinical Senior Lecturer