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Gestational Diabetes and Hormonal Changes: Understanding the Link

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and affects around 2-10% of pregnant women. It occurs when the body cannot produce or effectively use enough insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels. While the exact cause of GDM remains unclear, hormonal changes play a crucial role in its development.

During pregnancy, the body undergoes significant hormonal shifts to support the growth and development of the fetus. Some of the key hormones involved in gestational diabetes are insulin, progesterone, estrogen, and human placental lactogen (hPL).

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. As pregnancy progresses, the placenta produces hormones that can interfere with insulin's action, creating insulin resistance. This means that even though the body produces insulin, it becomes less effective at lowering blood sugar, leading to elevated glucose levels.

Progesterone and estrogen are the primary female sex hormones that increase during pregnancy. They help maintain the pregnancy and support fetal growth. However, these hormones can also impair insulin sensitivity, contributing to insulin resistance.

Human placental lactogen (hPL) is a hormone produced by the placenta that plays a vital role in providing nutrients to the fetus. Like other placental hormones, hPL can antagonize insulin's action, making it harder for the body to use glucose effectively.

The combination of increased insulin resistance and hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to gestational diabetes. While the body tries to compensate by producing more insulin, in some women, it may not be sufficient to overcome the insulin resistance, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels.

Risk factors for gestational diabetes include advanced maternal age, family history of diabetes, obesity, previous history of gestational diabetes, and certain ethnic backgrounds. However, even women without any risk factors can develop GDM due to the complex interplay of hormonal changes during pregnancy.

Diagnosis of gestational diabetes is crucial, as uncontrolled high blood sugar can have adverse effects on both the mother and the baby. Fortunately, many cases of GDM can be managed through a combination of dietary changes, regular exercise, and sometimes, insulin therapy.

Led by Jessica Grey, our Diabetes Educator and supported by Malindi Greenwood (Dietitian) and Exercise Physiologist Rebecca Withers, we at Active One, now offer a comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach to managing the health of women (and their babies) with Gestational Diabetes.

Do not hesitate to get in contact with our team if you have been diagnosed with this condition or you would like to refer someone for this service.

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