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BIRTH WEIGHT AFFECTS ADULT HEALTH

Twelve years ago, David Barker of the University of Southampton in England noticed that at the start of the 20th century, poor areas of England had a very high incidence of newborn babies dying and those that survived had a very high incidence of heart attacks later in life. He noticed that babies born to these women were small at birth and concluded that when a mother is deprived of food during her pregnancy, she gives birth to babies that are at high risk of dying in infancy and those that survive are at high risk for heart attacks many years later when they become adults.

Further research shows that small newborns from big parents are more likely to die in infancy than small babies from small parents. The conclusion is that a baby who should have been born at 9 pounds, but weights only 5 pounds at birth is the one most likely to be sickly or die, whereas a five pound baby who came from small parents was supposed to be 5 pounds. So babies that are small because they are deprived of food in the uterus are the ones most likely to die in infancy or suffer heart attacks later in life.

Then a study from Amsterdam showed that babies who are deprived of food in the first three months of pregnancy are the ones most likely to suffer heart attacks as adults. But a study from Stalingrad showed that babies deprived of food in the uterus who do not become fat later in life are not at increased risk for heart attacks later on. The Amsterdam babies had lots of food throughout their childhoods, while the Stalingrad babies continued to be starved for their entire childhoods. So the Amsterdam babies suffered heart tacks as adults, while the Stalingrad babies did not. Furthermore, studies in the Philippines show that depriving a baby of food in the uterus causes him or her to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol later in life.

So now the theory is that when a baby is deprived of food in the uterus and is given lots of food later on, he is at great risk for a heart attack. On the other hand, if a baby is starved in uterus and is not given lots of food later on, he does not get a heart attack. Now we have to explain how depriving a baby of food in the uterus and overfeeding him during childhood causes heart attacks. There is a huge body of research showing that starvation in the uterus shunts blood to the brain and away from the other organs, causing a baby to be born with small liver, pancreas, kidneys and so forth. These organs do not function as well and when these babies are given too much food later on, they have higher than normal levels of insulin and other hormones that constrict arteries to cause heart attacks. These babies have smaller kidneys which may not be able to function as well, so when they don't get enough oxygen, produce too much renin that also constricts arteries to cause high blood pressure. High levels of insulin constrict arteries and cause heart attacks.

Roseboom et al. Coronary Heart Disease after prenatal exposure to the Dutch Famine. Heart 2000;84:595-8.

Checked 8/9/05

June 1st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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