- Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy. The condition can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Data from a recent study shows that regular coffee consumption is associated with a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes among people with a prior history of gestational diabetes.
- Those who’ve had gestational diabetes can make healthy lifestyle choices to help reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that may lead to many adverse health outcomes if the condition is not managed.
Gestational diabetes is a specific type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and may lead to the development of type 2 diabetes (T2D) after a pregnant person gives birth.
Researchers are still working to understand the best ways to reduce the risk of T2D among those who’ve had gestational diabetes.
A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined how coffee consumption may reduce the risk of T2D among people with a history of gestational diabetes.
The findings show that habitual coffee consumption is associated with a decreased risk of developing T2D, especially when artificially sweetened beverages were swapped for coffee.
Gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes risk
Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy. The condition may increase the risk of specific adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Non-study author and OB-GYN specialist Dr. Jennifer Wong at Bridgeport Hospital in Connecticut explained to Medical News Today:
“Uncontrolled diabetes in pregnancy is associated with a number of adverse pregnancy and neonatal outcomes, including excessive fetal growth, difficult delivery, birth injuries, and low blood sugars in the baby after birth.”
After a baby is born, blood sugar levels typically return to normal. But people who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D) later in life.
Non-study author Dr. Jennifer Meller, chief medical officer at Sweetch, explained to MNT:
“Pregnancy naturally induces a state of insulin resistance as the placenta produces hormones that ensure that plenty of glucose and nutrients are available for the developing fetus. When a woman develops gestational diabetes, her pancreas is unable to ramp up insulin production to counterbalance this new insulin-resistant state. This inability is thought to be due to an underlying predisposition to diabetes. Women who develop gestational diabetes are already at risk for diabetes, and the pregnancy-related insulin resistance simply unmasks this predisposition.”
Researchers are still working to understand the best ways for people in this at-risk group to lower their chances of developing T2D.
Coffee reduces type 2 diabetes risk
For the study, researchers examined whether regular coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk for type 2 diabetes among female nurses in the United States with a history of gestational diabetes.
They included over 4,500 participants in their analysis, using data from an ongoing prospective cohort study called the NHS (Nurses’ Health Study) II. The research included baseline data and regular follow-up. Participants were followed for an average of just over 24 years.
They found that participants who consumed caffeinated coffee had a lower risk of developing T2D than those who did not.
They also found that switching 1 cup of a sugar-sweetened beverage with coffee a day was associated with a 17% decrease in T2D risk. In addition, switching out one cup of artificially sweetened beverage with coffee a day was associated with a 9% decreased risk.
Study author Cuilin Zhang Ph.D., director of the Global Centre for Asian Women’s Health (GloW) and Professor at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, noted the key findings of the study to MNT:
“Women who experience diabetes in pregnancy (gestational diabetes) are often at quite high risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in their lives. Coffee, when consumed properly (2–5 cups per day, without sugar and whole-fat [or] high-fat dairy), was related to lower type 2 diabetes risk among these women at high risk. Replacing sugary drinks with coffee was also related to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.”
Areas for further research on coffee and T2D
Despite the positive implications, the study did have several limitations.
First, it relied on participants’ self-reporting, so there is the possibility of errors in data collection.
There is also the potential for residual confounding. Researchers did not collect data on methods of coffee preparation or “its consumption with sugar and [or] dairy.” This may have impacted the study’s outcomes, but researchers adjusted for total added sugar intake.
Most participants were Caucasian nurses, meaning the findings may not be generalizable. It also indicates the need for more diverse research in this area.
Dr. Wong noted the following cautions on the study’s results:
“While this study does propose an interesting biological basis for the role of coffee in glucose metabolism, the study is not designed to quantify the effect of coffee intake on development of diabetes. Particularly given the limitations of not only the study design but in the scope of its findings, much more study is needed before any recommendations can be made about coffee intake as an intervention to reduce lifetime risk of diabetes.”
Dr. Zhang added that researchers could conduct intervention studies on coffee consumption and investigate the impact of coffee consumption in different populations.
“More studies are needed to examine the roles of coffee consumption in the local context with major health outcomes,” Dr. Zhang said.
Healthy lifestyle choices help prevent T2D
Those who’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes should talk with their healthcare team to understand their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
They can also take proactive steps to help reduce their risk of developing T2D following pregnancy, including regular testing for diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising regularly.
Dr. Meller shared a few T2D prevention tips for individuals with a history of gestational diabetes:
Nurse or chest feed when possible
Though the mechanism remains unclear, people who chest feed have a lower risk of developing T2D than those who do not.
If you’re having difficulty nursing, you may wish to talk with your doctor or a lactation consultant. If your situation requires your infant to be formula fed, there are still other options available to you to decrease your T2D risk.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Consuming a healthy diet and exercising regularly to keep your body mass index (BMI) and abdominal waist circumference within healthy ranges are crucial for overall health, particularly when it comes to preventing T2D.
Studies have shown that adopting a healthy lifestyle can reduce the annual incidence of diabetes by 30% to 50% compared with no intervention.
For some people, taking medication like metformin to prevent the onset of T2D may be helpful. Ask your doctor about your options to find out the best course of action to suit your individual needs.
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