The statistics show that 5–10% of mothers in the U.S. intake psychostimulants—like cocaine, amphetamine, or methamphetamine—during pregnancy. Despite the negative consequences on the developing brain, several babies were born from drug-abusing mothers having imbalanced blood glucose levels, which statistically impacts more female newborns. The study was based upon observations in people and was carried in mouse models. It explored whether the methods underlying poor glucose metabolism are identical to those acting in the brain. The investigators consequently studied the impacts of a psychostimulant on the growth of pancreatic beta cells and determined their life-long repercussions on the production of insulin.
In the fetal brain, psychostimulant advance mainly via dopamine signaling pathways, which are not present during the development of pancreas. Instead, as the study disclosed, they use the serotonin transporter to impact serotonin signaling, thus invading on the growth of pancreatic beta cells whose role it is to form the hormone insulin to control blood glucose levels. If the body creates very little insulin, it is no more capable of controlling glucose homeostasis properly. Tibor Harkany—Principal Investigator—said, “The drugs impacted the epigenetic guideline of gene expression in the pancreatic beta cells, thus changing the characteristics of these cells in a manner that the formation of the hormone insulin is impaired.”
On a similar note, recently, a study showed that a high-fat maternal diet can induce brain damage in the fetus. A research team from MedUni Vienna’s CBR (Center for Brain Research) discovered that high-fat diet of the pregnant woman can cause life-long alterations in the brain of the unborn child. When a pregnant woman intakes a diet rich in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids, her body generates a surplus of endocannabinoids (endogenous cannabinoids) that overload the fetal system and damage the growth of healthy brain networks.