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News2001May › Starvation in the womb leads to heart disease › May 2001

Starvation in the womb leads to heart disease

Some cases of heart disease may have their roots in prenatal life depending on what the mother does or, more importantly, does not eat

Some cases of heart disease may have their roots in prenatal life depending on what the mother does or, more importantly, does not eat.

Drawing from the data on families who survived the Dutch famine of 1944-1945, researchers found that malnutrition in the womb, particularly during early pregnancy, leads to more than twice the risk of developing heart disease later in life. In this population, those who did develop CHD were also those who had weighed the least and had the smallest head circumferences at birth.

The Dutch famine was caused by German blockade of food supplies to the Netherlands during World War II. Because the food shortage can be pinpointed in time and place, researchers have been able to study the long term health of children born around that time. While numbers are small and the circumstances distressing these studies have revealed profound effects of starvation in the womb, including perinatal death, obesity as young adults, decreased glucose tolerance in middle age, CNS problems and an increased risk of personality disorders among boys. It also affects birth weight in the next generation (Heart, 2000; 84: 595-8).


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