Iron Levels and Gestational Diabetes

Many women run the risk of developing gestational diabetes during their pregnancy. Doctors usually advise a standard healthy routine to stave off the condition, from balanced nutrition to regular exercise.

But thanks to this new study from Diabetologia , the doctors may also start suggesting that moms-to-be watch their iron levels.

The Iron Balancing Act

Iron is a particularly tricky nutrient in living organisms – both having too much and too little can lead to health complications. For pregnant women, too little iron has long been a concern, as many moms-to-be experience iron deficiency.

Yet according to Cuilin Zhang from Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), “Higher maternal iron stores may play a role in the development of gestational diabetes starting as early as the first trimester.”

The Study

Zhang and colleague Dr Shristi Rawal looked at 107 cases of gestational diabetes along with 214 control subjects, reviewing several biomarkers to determine both the subjects' iron levels and their bodies' iron needs. They measured these levels four times throughout the study twice before a gestational diabetes diagnosis (if the subject developed the condition) and twice after.

Of the women with iron levels in the top 25 percent of study subjects, researchers were astonished to find an increased risk for gestational diabetes - a risk up to 2.5 times higher.

How Does This Change Prenatal Treatment?

Dr. Rawal says that this new study “raise[s] potential concerns about the recommendation of routine iron supplementation among pregnant women who already have sufficient iron.” While iron is still a critical nutrient in the body, particularly for the health of a developing baby, Rawal and colleagues want to encourage doctors to adjust their recommendations for each woman.

Dr. Robert Courgi, an endocrinologist New York's Southside Hospital, puts it simply: "you can't globally treat every pregnant woman with iron."

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