October 13, 2017 By Elizabeth McCammon

Some women are at higher risk for gestational diabetes because of factors such as being 35 years or older, overweight (a BMI of 30 or higher), or from a high-risk group (Indigenous, Asian, Hispanic, or African descent). New research published in the May 2017 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests that warmer temperatures may also be a factor in the development of gestational diabetes.

The researchers studied more than half a million births among 396,828 women (all of whom lived in the Greater Toronto Area) over a 12-year period. They found that women who were exposed to hotter temperatures (above 24 degrees Celsius) during mid-pregnancy were more likely to have gestational diabetes than women exposed to colder temperatures (-10 degrees Celsius or below). Overall, 7.7 per cent of women in the warm temperature group developed gestational diabetes compared to 4.6 per cent of women in the cold temperature group.

The study was co-led by Dr. Gillian Booth, an endocrinologist at Toronto’s St. Michael's Hospital, and an adjunct scientist with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, whose research has been supported by Diabetes Canada in the past. According to Booth, “The finding…fits a pattern we expected from new studies showing that cold exposure can improve your sensitivity to insulin [which lowers the risk of developing diabetes], by turning on a protective type of fat called brown adipose tissue.”

Although gestational diabetes is temporary, it does increase a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Booth noted that the results of this study, combined with the continued rise in global temperatures, could signal an increase in the future number of cases of gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes worldwide.

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