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Blog Post created by Thomas3.20.2010 on Jan 18, 2014

Unlocking the mystery of childhood obesity

Research shows nicotine replacement therapy could have adverse effects on offspring

   By    Amy Kenny

For expectant mothers, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) may be safer than smoking, but even gum, lozenges and patches are not without their consequences.

New research from London's Western University indicates that nicotine from both smoking and NRT can have negative results in children, including increased risk of obesity. Dr. Alison Holloway, associate professor with the department of obstetrics and gynecology at McMaster University, worked in collaboration with Western's Dr. Daniel Hardy of the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

"It's well established that kids born to moms who smoke during pregnancy have an increased risk of obesity, but the reasons were never clear why," Holloway said Friday.

Over two years, their research focused on discovering what, specifically, increased that risk and how.

Holloway said they examined this by injecting pregnant rats with nicotine and studying their offspring.

At birth, the baby rats were small. Within six months, however, they experienced increases in liver and circulating triglycerides — a trademark of obesity.

"We don't want to say to people that they shouldn't use NRT if they're smoking, but we want people to understand that NRT may also have its own risks," Holloway said.

Still, she acknowledged that quitting cold turkey may not work for some people. That's why she and Hardy are applying for a grant to continue their research.

If it goes forward, they want to look at whether there are critical windows during fetal and neonatal development when offspring are more or less sensitive to nicotine. From there, they'll propose interventions to the mother that may reverse the damage caused by nicotine.

One potential option includes increasing perinatal doses of folic acid. Folic acid has been proven to reduce circulating triglycerides in animals. As well, mothers who smoke often have low levels of the vitamin.

"The end game is to see if we can improve those outcomes for kids whose moms smoked during pregnancy," Holloway said.

Their work was recently published online in the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.