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Babies from obese mothers have shorter telomeres
If pregnant women suffer from obesity, this can lead to an increased biological age of the babies. Belgian researchers have now found that babies from obese mothers have shorter telomeres compared to babies from normal-weight mothers. So-called telomeres are regarded as markers of biological age.
Scientists at Hasselt University in Belgium found that obesity in mothers-to-be affects the biological age of newborns. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "BMC Medicine".
Doctors examine the data of over 700 mothers and their babies
For their investigation, the researchers analyzed the data of 743 mothers aged between 17 and 44 years. In addition, the data of the newborns were also evaluated. For this purpose, cord blood samples were taken from each newborn immediately after birth.
What are telomeres?
The scientists looked at the genetic material in the baby's cells, particularly the length of their telomeres. So-called telomeres are the caps at the ends of the chromosomes, which are intended to protect the chromosomes from damage.
Telomeres become shorter over the course of life
Telomeres naturally shorten as we humans get older. However, they do not shorten at the same rate for everyone, say the experts. The longer a person's telomeres are, the more often their cells can divide. For this reason, telomeres are viewed as markers of biological age. The researchers add the age of the cells, but not the chronological age.
BMI increase linked to shortening of telomeres
Compared to newborns with normal weight mothers, the newborn babies from obese mothers had shorter telomeres. An increase in maternal body mass index (BMI) of only one point was linked to a 50-base pair reduction in telomeres in the newborn. This shortening of 50 base pairs corresponds to the length of a telomer that an adult would lose in the course of a year, the Belgian experts explain.
The mother's BMI affects the fetal programming of the DNA
A high maternal BMI influences the fetal programming of the DNA. This leads to a change in fetal development and can trigger various diseases later in life, explains co-author Professor Tim Nawrot from Hasselt University in Belgium. In adults, shorter telomeres are linked to age-related diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Fathers' BMI not included in study
In their investigation, the researchers also considered other factors besides the length of the telomeres, such as the age of the parents, socioeconomic status, smoking and the birth weight of the babies. However, the current study found only one association. The results are no evidence that the weight of a mother must lead to shorter telomere lengths in babies, the scientists explain. There was no information about the weight of the father during the examination. This could also affect the length of the baby's telomeres, the authors add. Further research on this topic is urgently needed. (as)