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Fetal exposure to nicotine linked to later obesity

Nicotine causes liver to produce more triglyceride

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 17 January 2014

Nicotine exposure during pregnancy is linked to an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome, according to new research from Canada.

The study, from Western University, published online in the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, shows that nicotine from either smoking or Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) causes a wide range of long-term adverse reactions for the offspring, by influencing the liver to produce more triglyceride.

Lead researcher Daniel Hardy, assistant professor in the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and Physiology and Pharmacology, explained: "We knew smoking was bad during pregnancy…and 30 prospective studies have shown us that that babies born to smoking mothers have a 47% increase in the odds of becoming overweight. And here's the interesting thing, that's even after adjusting for mom's diet and socioeconomic status.”

Working in collaboration with Alison Holloway, of McMaster University, Hardy gave pregnant laboratory rats the same amount of nicotine, adjusted for weight, that an average smoker receives (1 mg per kg a day). The offspring were born smaller in size, but six months later when they reached adulthood, the rats had developed an increase in liver and circulating triglycerides, a hallmark of obesity. The study also demonstrated that the nicotine-exposed liver, long-term, is making more triglycerides via transcriptional and epigenetic changes.

Hardy agrees that, compared to smoking, NRT is the lesser of two evils, but says clinicians may need to look more closely at the long-term safety and efficacy of nicotine in pregnancy on postnatal health and well-being.

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