A recent study conducted by scientists from Belgium, Britain and Spain came up with a finding that could link abnormal growth in babies with the amount of fat in mothers. Embryos of cattle eggs, when exposed to elevated levels of fatty acids in the ovaries, underwent changes in gene expression, metabolic activity and cell count. These changes interfered with the normal development of the embryo.
Although the study involves the embryos of cows, experts opine that the kind of saturated fatty acids that the embryos were exposed to is similar to that found in the ovaries of overweight, obese or diabetic women. Therefore, a comparable environment could have a similar effect on the human embryo and hamper its normal development too.
The study was conducted by scientists at the University of Antwerp, who said that bovine eggs were chosen for the study because cows could be induced to develop metabolic disorders that contributed to reduced fertility (as is the case of diabetes in human beings). Thus, the similarity to the condition of human embryo is very high.
Preceding the study, experts already knew of the detrimental effects of fatty acids on the developing egg within the ovary. However, this was the first time a study established the impact of fatty acids on a living embryo. The embryos were exposed to the conditions eight days after fertilization, by which time it had already developed 70-100 cells. Following exposure, the embryos displayed elevation in glucose metabolism and changes in metabolism of lactate, glucose and oxygen. In addition to changes in metabolism, the research also found that the embryos showed indications of being under elevated degrees of cellular stress, which could ultimately lead to decreased chances of survival of the embryo.
Diabetic, obese and overweight people metabolize larger quantities of stored fat, which results in higher levels of fatty acids in the ovaries. Previous studies have shown that high levels of fatty acids in the ovaries could be toxic to pre-ovulated eggs. The current study shows the detrimental effects of elevated fatty acid concentrations on the growing embryo too.