Can Our Environment Impact Gestational Diabetes Risk?

New research suggests that exposure to pollutants in the environment can significantly increase the risk of gestational diabetes.

Pregnant belly in red dress
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Anyone who's ever gulped down that sticky orange glucose test—reminiscent of flat orange soda that's been in a hot car for weeks and evaporated into syrup—knows the feeling: Even though gestational diabetes is treatable and manageable, we all hope such a test will come back negative.

It hasn't been totally clear what causes gestational diabetes, though our genetics and behaviors are thought to contribute. But can it be that substances lurking in the environment increase the likelihood that a test could come back positive?

New research shows that significant exposure to organic pollutants early on in pregnancy is associated with a big uptick in gestational diabetes.

Specifically, the study showed that a 10-times increased exposure to so-called "persistent organic pollutants," known as POP, in the first trimester correlated to a 4.4 times increased risk of the disorder.

POP is a group comprised of various substances—synthetic chemicals used broadly as pesticides and in industrial processes—that don't biodegade, and show up nearly everywhere in the environment. Exposure to them has already been linked to type 2 diabetes in other studies, but not much was known about how they impact pregnancy. The use of these chemicals has long been banned, but they remain stubbornly in the environment, where they accumulate in animals' bodies and our own bodies.

The study focused on 639 Greek women who were screened for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Researchers indicate that further studies are needed to replicate these results and to further evaluate the associations. The study was presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Stockholm.

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Alesandra Dubin is a mom to one-year-old boy-girl twins. She's also a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of lifestyle blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and Twitter.

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