For several years, experts and researchers have explored the potential benefits of probiotics for women who are pregnant or who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a condition related only to pregnancy. Like other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes impacts how the body breaks down glucose (sugar). When glucose is not properly broken down, the result is hyperglycemia and inadequate insulin regulation.
Gestational diabetes is linked to several risk factors during pregnancy, such as:
- Premature Birth
- Large Birth Weight
- Brain Defects
- Heart Defects
These risks are for both the mother and child.
Benefits of Probiotics for Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes affects between 1.5 to 14 percent of pregnant women. With significant risks to mother and child, researchers have continued to focus on ways to reduce risk and better manage gestational diabetes when it develops. Probiotics is one of the most common recommendations.
Probiotics are different types of micro-organisms that occur naturally in some foods. Two of the most commonly used probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These gut-healthy micro-organisms are thought to help the body digest and metabolize foods, convert food to energy, and balance out glucose.
The benefits of probiotics for women have been studied extensively. Researchers have determined that benefits include:
- Better glycemic control
- Preventing worsening of insulin resistance during pregnancy
- Preventing gestational diabetes in women who are otherwise healthy
- Reducing the risk of preeclampsia
- Aids in weight control
- Reduces the risk of fetal macrosomia
- Reduces the risk of neonatal birth trauma
Probiotics offer these benefits by encouraging healthy bacteria and micro-organisms in the gut (digestive tract), and regulating levels of potentially harmful bacteria or micro-organisms. It is widely accepted that a healthy gut improves overall health and reduces the risk of certain diseases.
Limitations to Probiotics
While there are certainly medically-supported benefits to probiotics, there are also limitations. Research has found that probiotics may not be successful in preventing gestational diabetes in women who are clinically overweight or obese. One study published in the journal Diabetes Care in March 2019 revealed that, among overweight or obese women:
- 18.4 percent of women taking probiotics developed gestational diabetes.
- 12.3 percent of women in the placebo group developed gestational diabetes.
In addition to limitations based on weight, there are also limitations to research recommendations based on varying factors like the degree of hyperglycemia. A study conducted in January 2019 suggested that probiotic use can lower glucose levels and increase insulin sensitivity. It was further noted, however, that variances in hyperglycemia, diet, and weight changes could impact whether or not probiotics are an effective or appropriate means of preventing or managing gestational diabetes.
Recommendations for Women Concerned about Gestational Diabetes
Testing and monitoring for gestational diabetes is part of most routine prenatal healthcare. However, it is only natural that women are concerned about developing gestational diabetes throughout pregnancy. Based on research, the best recommendations for women who are concerned about gestational diabetes include:
- Talk to your doctor about your concerns,
especially if you have certain risk factors for gestational diabetes, such as:
- A history of being overweight or obese
- Being diagnosed as pre-diabetic
- A history of gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies
- A history of hormone disorders
- A history or miscarriage or stillbirth
- Maintain a healthy weight before and during pregnancy
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Take vitamins and supplements as recommended by your doctor
- Exercise as appropriate throughout pregnancy
There are many variables during pregnancy that can impact your health. By educating yourself about the risks and possible preventative strategies, you can be your own best advocate for a positive and healthy pregnancy.