" src="https://www.babymed.com/%3Ca%20href%3D"http://www.babymed.com/sites/all/modules/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif">http://www.babymed.com/sites/all/modules/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/sp..." alt="<--break->">Dr. Lisa Joss-Moore is a specialist in the developmental origins of health and disease; she studies life in the womb to find links to diseases and disorders that develop long after birth. One of her most recent studies finds that fetal exposure to tobacco increases the likelihood that a male child will develop obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders as an adult.

Working from the University of Utah Health Care system in Salt Lake City, Joss-Moore and her team of researchers worked with lab rats to assess the long-term effects of smoking on mice in utero. Previous studies of rats and humans indicate gestational exposure to tobacco smoke increases the likelihood the offspring will develop visceral fat as an adult.

All humans have a degree of fat distributed at strategic locations around the body. This fat, or adipose tissue, serves a purpose but too much body fat is dangerous, especially if it is the visceral kind. Visceral fat is also known as abdominal or belly fat because it forms in the abdominal cavity around and between internal organs.

Visceral fat is thought to be the most dangerous kind of body fat. Excess fat here has been linked to diseases of obesity that include type 2 diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and insulin resistance.

Joss-Moore’s study involved pregnant rats who were exposed to cigarette smoke throughout their pregnancies. Once born, their pups were handed over to a control group of female rats never exposed to tobacco smoke. These control rats nursed the pups until they were weaned to a standard diet of rat chow, which they ate until they reached the age of 60 days, which is equivalent to a human young adult.

At this time, each now-adult rat pup was tested for visceral fat and certain steroids in the bloodstream that govern metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. These same steroids — glucocorticoids — also produce anti-inflammatory effects.

The research team discovered the male pups exposed to tobacco smoke in utero had:

  • 193% more visceral fat
  • 204% more of a particular form of hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (an enzyme involved with making steroids)
  • 147% more serum corticosterone (a glucocorticoid produced by the adrenal glands)
  • No change in a glucocorticoid receptor protein

Female pups demonstrated:

  • No changes in visceral or subcutaneous (under the skin) fat
  • 60% less serum corticosterone
  • 66% less of the glucocorticoid receptor protein

Joss-Moore hypothesizes exposure in the womb to tobacco smoke causes dysfunction of adipose tissue in male children that can lead to accumulation of excess visceral fat in adulthood. With a deeper understanding of the connection between smoking and visceral fat in adult male offspring, she anticipates the development of targeted interventions that will minimize the negative impact of fetal exposure.

Source: Joss-Moore, Lisa, et al. “Maternal tobacco smoke increased visceral adiposity and serum corticosterone levels in adult male rat offspring.” PubMed. US National Library of Medicine. Apr 11, 2014. Web. May 20, 2014.