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Birth weight is linked with heart disease in adulthood: Study

Discover the link between birth weight and adult heart disease risk in a groundbreaking study from the University of Helsinki. Unraveling shared genetic factors between mothers and children, this research sheds new light on a long-debated biological connection.

Muskan Gupta Written By: Muskan Gupta New Delhi Updated on: February 16, 2024 16:05 IST
Birth weight
Image Source : FREEPIK Birth weight is linked with heart disease in adulthood

A recent study sheds light on the intriguing connection between birth weight and the risk of heart disease in adults, highlighting the role of shared risk genes between mothers and their children. The research, conducted by experts from the University of Helsinki in Finland and published in the journal Communications Biology, delved into the long-debated biological mechanisms underlying this phenomenon.

Previous studies have consistently indicated that individuals born with lower birth weights face an elevated risk of developing hypertension and heart disease later in life. However, understanding the exact biological basis behind this correlation has remained elusive, with various theories proposed over the years.

One prevailing hypothesis suggests that inadequate maternal nutrition during pregnancy may impact the fetal metabolism, potentially predisposing the offspring to cardiovascular ailments in adulthood, particularly during phases of overnutrition.

The recent findings challenge some of these existing notions. The study revealed that maternal genetic factors influencing fetal growth have a significant impact on the child's subsequent susceptibility to heart disease, independent of birth weight. 

Lead researcher Jaakko Leinonen, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), highlighted the intergenerational transmission of these risk genes from mother to child. He said, "Certain maternal genes influence the growth conditions of the child in the womb and consequently the birth weight of the child. The child in turn inherits a copy of these genes from the mother."

"When we studied the impact of these birth weight genes on children's morbidity later in life, we found that small changes in the baby's growth before birth due to the mother are unlikely to have a major impact on the child's risk of developing the disease as an adult. Instead, it seems that a child's own genes play a much more important role in determining his or her future health risks," Leinonen added.

Contrary to previous assumptions, the study suggests that minor variations in fetal growth attributable to maternal factors may not substantially alter the child's risk of developing heart disease later on. Instead, the child's own genetic makeup emerges as a pivotal determinant of future health outcomes.

The research team analyzed genetic data from over 36,000 mother-child pairs, employing a novel approach that disentangles the genetic contributions of both maternal and child factors. According to Dr. Taru Tukiainen, who spearheaded the study, this methodological innovation proved instrumental in elucidating how maternal health and prenatal conditions shape the offspring's health trajectory. "Our research method, which uses genetic data from both mothers and their children at the same time, has proven to be a very effective way to find out how maternal health and the conditions of the baby in the womb can affect the health of the child," he said.

Despite these significant insights, the study underscores the need for further investigation into the nuanced relationship between birth weight and adult disease risk. Future research endeavors aim to unravel the specific implications of being born significantly underweight and other notable variations in birth weight on long-term health outcomes.

(with IANS inputs)

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