The September, 2011 issue of Diabetes published the finding of researchers at the University of Alberta of a protective effect for resveratrol, a compound found in red grapes and other plant foods, against the development of metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Jason Dyck of the University of Alberta's departments of Pediatrics and Pharmacology and his colleagues exposed pregnant rats to a normal environment or one that was low in oxygen during the latter third of their gestational periods. (Oxygen deprivation can restrict fetal growth as well as increase the risk of metabolic syndrome later in life.) The animals' offspring were given high fat diets after weaning, and some were supplemented with resveratrol for nine weeks. Glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, abdominal fat, and triglyceride and free fatty acid levels were measured at the end of the treatment period in order to evaluate the development of metabolic syndrome.
While rats that were exposed to a hypoxic environment had more severe symptoms of metabolic syndrome compared to those that were exposed to a normal environment, animals that received resveratrol had less abdominal fat, better lipid levels, lower peripheral triglyceride levels, and improvements in insulin resistance and glucose tolerance compared to those that did not receive the compound.
"There is a concept that in utero, there are genetic shifts that are occurring – reprogramming is occurring because of this strenuous environment babies are in, that allows them to recover very quickly after birth," Dr Dyck explained. "When babies are growth-restricted, they usually have a catch-up period after they are born where they catch up to non-growth-restricted groups. It might be that reprogramming that creates this kind of 'thrifty' phenotype, where they want to consume and store and get caught up. That reprogramming appears to make them more vulnerable to developing a host of metabolic problems."
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