Many women gain weight during pregnancy and have great difficulty with losing the excess pounds afterwards. According to a new study that was presented at an international endocrinology conference, a possible explanation may be lack of vitamin B12, which is a nutrient that helps the body metabolize fat. The researchers therefore suggest that it may be a good idea to take a vitamin B12 supplement during pregnancy, as overweight may eventually lead to health problems such as type 2 diabetes. There can also be emotional consequences of being overweight.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is important for red blood cell formation, energy levels, the nervous system, the immune system, normal DNA function and cell division. The nutrient is only found in animal sources such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, so for vegetarians and vegans or people who primarily eat starchy diets and junk-food, the risk of lacking vitamin B12 is overhanging. Such a deficiency may result in different symptoms, and the primary concern is anemia. On the other hand, vitamin B12’s role in the nervous system, metabolism, and cell division is often overlooked.
International research shows that around 25 percent of pregnant women lack vitamin B12. This is because they get too little from dietary sources and because the fetus sequesters relatively large amounts of the nutrient, which it needs for developing. The combination of these two factors can easily lead to a vitamin B12 deficit, and this is believed to increase the risk of overweight and perhaps the onset of type 2 diabetes at a later stage.
A vitamin B12 deficiency disrupts your fat metabolism in many ways
It is already known that fat cells are fundamentally vital for many physiological processes in the body. They work as energy storage, they insulate, and they help produce various hormones and neurotransmitters. Fat cells, depending on where they are situated in the body, have different biochemical functions.
It is already known that too much fat tissue in the abdominal cavity may eventually result in insulin resistance, overweight, and diabetes. The researchers behind the new study therefore wanted to look closer at how a vitamin B12 deficiency can disrupt the fat metabolism and the synthesis of triglycerides (elevated triglyceride levels can be harmful). Abnormal metabolism in the fat cells may cause the white blood cells in the fat tissue to initiate potentially harmful inflammatory processes, and that can set the stage for type 2 diabetes and metabolic disorders.
The new study looked at how different fat cells functioned in the pregnant women. The cells were extracted from their visceral fat in the abdominal cavity and from fat tissue in the skin. The scientists cultivated the different fat cells and provided the cell cultures with different levels of vitamin B12.
They took the exact same fat cell samples from pregnant women with adequate levels of vitamin B12 (according to blood samples) and from pregnant women that were vitamin B12-deficient.
They then looked closer at the genes associated with fat metabolism using a special method called RT-PCR (real-time polymerase chain reaction). Also, they measured triglyceride synthesis and levels of fatty acid oxidation, which reflects the rate at which fatty acids are converted into energy. Here, the scientists measured the oxygen consumption inside the mitochondria, which are the cellular “powerhouses” that make energy.
What they found was that a vitamin B12 deficiency changes the fat metabolism of fat cells in several ways. For instance, there was an upregulation of genes that are responsible for triglycerides, while the conversion of fatty acids into energy was dialed down. Furthermore, they observed an increase in various cytokines and other pro-inflammatory neurotransmitters. All of these changes in the lipid metabolism are likely to increase the risk of overweight, chronic inflammation, and type 2 diabetes.
According to the scientists, further research is needed to confirm these findings. They also want to look closer at how being vitamin B12-deficient during pregnancy can affect the fetal development. Still, they do recommend that pregnant women take a vitamin B12 supplement and state that it is likely to help prevent overweight and type 2 diabetes, both of which are problems that more and more people suffer from.
Lilji Thomas. Study finds vitamin B12 deficiency in pregnancy may induce obesity. News Medical Nov 12. 2019
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