High sugar diet may up birth defect risk

By Deborah Condon

Women who eat foods high in sugar while they are pregnant, may increase the risk of their child being born with certain birth defects, the results of a new study indicate.

Researchers set out to investigate whether a high intake of sugar and sugary foods during pregnancy could influence the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects (NTDs).

NTDs affect the nervous system. Spina bifida is one of the most common of these and occurs when the spinal column fails to form properly while the baby is developing in the womb.

The study looked at 454 women who had given birth to babies with NTDs and 462 women who had given birth to babies without such defects.

The participants' diets during pregnancy were compared. Specifically, the researchers looked at the women's intake of three sugars, sucrose, fructose and glucose, as well as their intake of foods with higher glycaemic index values.

The glycaemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrate foods on how they will affect blood sugar levels, measuring how much a person's blood sugar will increase two to three hours after eating. High GI foods, which include white bread, potatoes and rice cakes, release larger amounts of glucose into the blood more quickly, giving a 'sugar rush'.

Potatoes are a high GI food

The American researchers found that the intake of glucose and fructose did not appear to affect the risk of having a child with NTDs. However women who ate high levels of sucrose, which is ordinary table sugar, or foods with high GI levels, were twice as likely to have a child with defects.

Furthermore this risk increased even more amongst obese women - they were four times more likely to have a child with NTDs.

The researchers concluded that problems with sugar control 'are associated with NTD risk'. Details of this study are published in the 'American Journal of Clinical Nutrition'.

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