Editors' ChoiceObesity

Moms and the Metabolic Syndrome

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Science Translational Medicine  03 Feb 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 17, pp. 17ec16
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3000891

Ubiquitous self-help books and the popular press advise people to eat less and live longer. Indeed, calorie restriction without malnutrition is now accepted as a means to extend the average and maximum life spans and delay the onset of age-related diseases. An exception to the eat-less mantra is pregnant women, in whom caloric restriction during critical periods of development can alter metabolic programming in the fetus in a way that increases the risks for cardiometabolic disease in the adult offspring. A related but as-yet-unexplored area is whether early postnatal nutrition, particularly during breast-feeding, imparts effects on metabolism that last into adulthood.

Now, research by Palou et al. suggests that caloric restriction of a mother who is breast-feeding can protect the offspring against obesity and insulin resistance later in life. In their study, the authors assessed the lasting effects of moderate caloric restriction in lactating rats on body weight, insulin sensitivity, and other energy homeostasis-related parameters in their grown offspring when these animals are exposed to a high-fat diet in adulthood. In addition, the group measured the presence of leptin—a hormone that regulates appetite and metabolism—in both maternal milk and the offspring, and evaluated the previously reported protective effects of leptin during lactation against obesity and metabolic aberrations in the mature progeny. The authors found that moderate maternal calorie restriction during lactation (a 30% reduction in caloric intake relative to the wild-type ad libitum diet) protects both male and female adult offspring from diet-induced obesity and its related metabolic alterations (including dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, and hyperleptinemia), possibly by affecting postnatal growth and leptin concentrations.

M. Palou et al., Moderate caloric restriction in lactating rats protects offspring against obesity and insulin resistance in later life. Endocrinology 12 Jan 2010 (doi: 10.1210/en.2009-0934). [Abstract]

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