Fructose consumption during pregnancy influences metabolism of offspring

Sharon McCutcheon/Pexels

An increased level of fructose intake during pregnancy can cause significant changes in maternal metabolic function and milk composition and alter the metabolism of their offspring, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology.

The study found increasing the fructose in the diets of female guinea pigs led to highly significant and consistent changes in the free fatty acids circulating in the blood of their offspring. This was despite the offspring consuming no fructose themselves.

The two experimental groups were fed either a control diet or a fructose diet prior to and during pregnancy. The fructose group was given supplementary fructose water to replicate increased sugar-sweetened beverage intake 60 days prior to mating and until the delivery of their offspring. Fructose made up 16.5 percent of their diets, closely resembling the average human consumption of fructose or sugar in Western countries, which is estimated at about 14 percent of average daily caloric intake.

The researchers found fructose had a significant impact on a pregnant females' metabolic status and the free fatty acid content of their milk. Additionally, offspring born from fructose-fed mothers displayed increased free fatty acids and altered lipid metabolism that persisted throughout early life.

According to the researchers, it is well-known that increased levels of circulating free fatty acids increases the risk of obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, with increased fatty acid synthesis shown to occur following fructose consumption. The evidence suggests suboptimal maternal diets, such as diets high in fructose and refined sugars, may be contributing to the rise in metabolic diseases in humans observed during the past 40 to 50 years, they said.

"Our study emphasizes the importance of limiting added refined fructose, such as sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Erin Smith, PhD student and first author of the study, in a statement, “and striving for a more nutritionally balanced diet in women prior to and during pregnancy and lactation.”