Mothers who develop diabetes during their pregnancy — a condition that is known as gestational diabetes (GDM) — have an increased likelihood of having a child who will display attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms as early as six to 18 months of age. This is the warning researchers from the A*STAR Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) and the National University of Singapore made after analyzing their ongoing collaborative study of mothers and children before and after birth called “Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes” (GUSTO). The authors of this study are suggesting that this signals the need to reduce insulin resistance prior to pregnancy.
As part of the research, 473 children from the GUSTO study were observed. These children’s mothers had, beforehand, been screened and tested for GDM. The researchers measured each infant’s brain activity after listening to a “standard” repetitive sound which would then be interrupted at predetermined time periods with an infrequent sound. In normal children, the sound will eventually become familiar and elicit less brain activity.
The team saw that children born to mothers with GDM responded more to the “standard” sound. While not indicative of the condition itself, this does suggest that these children will develop ADHD later in life. The authors noted that the response to the “standard” sound was seen more among infants who were 18-months-old.
Anne Rifkin-Graboi, a co-author of the study said that “early presentation of such differences may enable higher-risk children to be identified earlier, to allow interventions to prevent or alleviate the development of attention-related problems.”
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Of more subtle importance, the study found that there was no difference in children born to mothers with GDM in their memory function using behavioral tasks. The researchers believe that this nuance suggests that GDM affects only certain areas of the brain.
The team likewise said that GDM may also play a role in birth weight.
“GDM babies tend to be larger,” observed co-author Shirong Cai.
The correlation between gestational diabetes and ADHD in children
The new study attempted to draw a link between gestational diabetes and the risk of ADHD in children among infants of Asian descent. However, this is not the first study that has suggested that diabetes (and its associated medication) could affect infant neurodevelopment.
A previous study made in 2016 concluded that children born of mothers who had gestational diabetes or who had diabetes beforehand and were taking medicine for it while pregnant had a greater risk of developing ADHD compared to infants not exposed to any form of diabetes medication. The researchers noted an almost 23 percent increased risk of ADHD among children whose mothers had GDM or who were taking diabetes medicine while pregnant.
These findings were presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), where the researchers stressed that their results did not determine whether ADHD was caused by GDM itself or the medication used to treat it. Alexandra Kautzky-Willer, M.D., professor of gender medicine at the Medical University of Vienna co-presented the results of the study noting, “we cannot say that insulin has a negative effect on offspring. It would be good to know about the hyperglycemic states of patients, which were not actually discussed but might be related to the outcomes.”
Dr. Kautzy-Willer agreed that more research is needed to truly determine whether it is diabetes severity during pregnancy or diabetes medications that increase a child’s risk for ADHD.
All the same, the authors of this study have said that pregnant mothers should pay closer attention to their nutrition to ensure their child’s best health.