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World Diabetes Day - Research uncovering link between gut health and pregnancy outcomes

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

World Diabetes Day - Research uncovering link between gut health and pregnancy outcomes

As part of World Diabetes Day, an Australian Diabetes Society’s (ADS) research grant recipient discusses her work in diabetes and pregnancy and shares tips for women and healthcare professionals on optimising wellness for mums and babies.

World Diabetes Day, November 14, 2017, aims to raise awareness of the right of all women with diabetes to a healthy future.

In Australia there are currently:

  • 600,000 women with diabetes. There are 57,000 women and girls living with type 1 diabetes and 502,000 women and girls living with type 2 diabetes
  • 185 women newly diagnosed with diabetes each day
  • 10,000 women with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM)
  • More than 100 pregnant women developing gestational diabetes every day
  • 38,000 women diagnosed with gestational diabetes in the past 12 months
  • One third of women with gestational diabetes needing insulin therapy during pregnancy to           manage their diabetes
  • More than 36,000 women of child bearing age with “existing type 1 diabetes (16,000) or type 2   diabetes (20,000)” and with special needs during pregnancy.

Dr Helen Barrett is a member of the ADS and is a practising Obstetric Physician and Endocrinologist. She is currently the Director of Endocrinology at Mater Hospital Brisbane and a Senior Research Fellow at Mater Research

“My passion is to improve the outcomes for women and their babies during complex pregnancies and my research interests are strongly tied to my clinical work,” she said.

“Many women with diabetes and their babies do well in pregnancy with the right planning and management from their multidisciplinary healthcare team,” she said.  

Dr Barrett said it is important for healthcare professionals to be aware of steps that can be taken to ensure mums and babies are well cared for before, during and after pregnancy.

“Managing one’s diabetes prior to conceiving, as well as during pregnancy, is essential in reducing complications for both mum and baby.”

“Diabetes in pregnancy has potential impacts including higher risks of miscarriage, infants born large, congenital malformation, pre-eclampsia, pre-term delivery, c-section and other birth complications, and higher rates of the infant needing NICU support for respiratory distress and low blood glucose. Pre-pregnancy planning and specialist care can assist in reducing those risks and achieving optimal outcomes for both mother and baby,” she said.

Dr Barrett was this year awarded the Diabetes Australia Research Program (DARP) grant, supported by the ADS and received the 2015 ADS-Skip Martin Early Career Fellowship.  

Dr Barrett was part of a team led by Professor Leonie Callaway and Professor David McIntyre that conducted an NHMRC-funded study of pregnant women with overweight and obesity that found a link between maternal gut health (microbiome) and risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension) and Gestational Diabetes during pregnancy.

Her current work, funded by the 2017 DARP grant, is enabling her and the team to build on these findings and explore how a woman’s gut health changes during pregnancy and how this impacts her baby’s health. She and the team are also investigating whether probiotic use during pregnancy can alter a woman’s gut health; potentially reducing her chance of developing Gestational Diabetes and high blood pressure. The clinical trial is still underway and the findings are yet to be published.

Australian Diabetes Society CEO, Dr Sof Andrikopoulos, said the ADS is delighted to support researchers like Dr Helen Barrett to continue their work in diabetes research.

“Women with diabetes stand to benefit from the important research being done by Dr Barrett and her team,” said Dr Andrikopoulos.

The risks during pregnancy for women with diabetes can be reduced and managed with close management of their diabetes prior to and during pregnancy. Dr Barrett provides the following tips for women contemplating pregnancy.

  • Gestational Diabetes rates are higher in women with overweight or obesity, women who have had Gestational Diabetes in an earlier pregnancy, women with a family history of diabetes and   women of certain ethnicities including Polynesia, Middle East and Asia, among other risk factors
  • The risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy is greater for women with overweight or obesity 
  • Women not known to have diabetes, but who may be at risk, should speak with their healthcare    provider and undergo screening before conceiving
  • Women with pre-existing diabetes, who are contemplating pregnancy, should seek advice from their healthcare provider about the best way to manage their diabetes before conceiving and during pregnancy
  • Women with pre-existing diabetes are at risk of a progression in diabetes-related complications   including eye disease and renal disease during pregnancy, so it’s important for women to speak  with their healthcare provider to ensure they undergo routine complications screening

For more information about World Diabetes Day, please visit The International Diabetes Federation. 

Media Release distributed by Australian Diabetes Society.

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Tags: Dr Helen Barrett, Mater, World Diabetes Day