The global epidemic of diabetes is a serious threat against health and healthcare expenses. Although genetics is important it does not explain the dramatic increase in incidence, which must involve environmental factors. Two decades ago the concept of the thrifty phenotype was introduced, stating that the intrauterine environment during pregnancy has an impact on the gene expression that may persist until adulthood and cause metabolic diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes. As the pancreatic beta cells are crucial in the regulation of metabolism this article will describe the influence of normal pregnancy on the beta cells in both the mother and the fetus and how various conditions like diabetes, obesity, overnutrition and undernutrition during and after pregnancy may influence the ability of the offspring to adapt to changes in insulin demand later in life. The influence of environmental factors including nutrients and gut microbiota on appetite regulation, mitochondrial activity and the immune system that may affect beta cell growth and function directly and indirectly is discussed. The possible role of epigenetic changes in the transgenerational transmission of the adverse programming may be the most threatening aspect with regard to the global diabetes epidemics. Finally, some suggestions for intervention are presented.
Acta Obstetricia Et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 2014, Vol 93, Issue 11, p. 1109-22