Drinking two or more cups of coffee a day during pregnancy can damage the baby's liver, research suggests.
Too much caffeine can delay organ development and increase a child's risk of developing fatty liver or diabetes in adulthood.
A study in rats found 120 mg of caffeine per day sufficient to lower the levels of a hormone that is vital to liver growth.
And the same effect can apply to people, the scientists suggest, when women have drinks with caffeine while they are pregnant.
This is a & # 39; regular & # 39; custom, the researchers said, with coffee, tea and soft drinks popular with expectant mothers.
However, one expert said the study was too weak to prevent women from drinking tea and coffee during pregnancy, and there was no guarantee of an effect on humans.
Researchers said that drinking caffeine lowered the levels of a vital growth hormone, which could delay the development of the liver, for which the body was later overcompensated (stock image)
Researchers at Wuhan University in China tested their theory by feeding caffeine to pregnant rats and testing their babies.
They discovered that those who gave them caffeine – starting with a dose of 120 mg per day (an average cup of coffee contains about 95 mg) – had less healthy offspring.
In the study, the scientists gave the rats amounts of caffeine to the equivalent of nine cups of coffee.
The caffeine caused a decrease in a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which promotes growth in the body and can lower blood sugar levels.
As a result, the baby & # 39; s after birth turned out to be a & # 39; compensatory & # 39; s have a spurt of growth in their liver, which could lead to abnormal development, the team said.
NHS guidelines recommend that pregnant women drink no more than 200 mg caffeine per day – about two cups of instant coffee.
It says that too much caffeine can cause a low birth weight for a baby and can also increase the risk of miscarriage.
& # 39; Our results indicate that maternal prenatal caffeine causes excess stress hormone activity, & # 39; said Dr. Yinxian Wen, an author of the study.
& # 39; (This may inhibit) IGF-1 activity for liver development before birth.
WHAT IS FAT LIFE DISEASE?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver is caused by too much fat being stored in the cells of the organ.
The disease can cause scarring and irreversible damage to the liver and can develop into cirrhosis (scars) and organ failure.
Fatty liver disease usually does not cause signs and symptoms, but they can include an enlarged liver, fatigue and abdominal pain.
The disease is caused by obesity, insulin resistance, high blood sugar levels and high levels of fat in the blood.
The risk of contracting the disease is increased in people with high cholesterol levels, concentrated fat in the abdomen, sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes.
The disease develops in stages, the mildest of which is probably not diagnosed, unless it happens to be noticed in other tests.
This makes it difficult to estimate how many people have the disease, but one in five people in the UK is believed to have it to a certain extent, in addition to 100 million people.
A nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can reduce the risk of liver fat.
Source: Mayo Clinic
& # 39; However, compensation mechanisms occur after birth to accelerate growth and restore normal liver function as IGF-1 activity increases and stress hormone signaling decreases.
& # 39; The increased risk of liver fat caused by prenatal exposure to caffeine is most likely due to this improved, compensatory postnatal IGF-1 activity. & # 39;
Non-alcoholic fatty liver is a condition caused by a build-up of fat in the liver – a healthy liver must contain virtually no fat.
The condition is most common in overweight people.
It can reduce liver function and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease in adulthood.
Dr. Wen said: & # 39; Our work suggests that prenatal caffeine is not good for babies & although these findings still need to be confirmed in humans, I would recommend women avoid caffeine during pregnancy. & # 39;
However, an expert who was not involved in the study said that Dr. Wen's conclusion was a step too far.
Dr. Michelle Bellingham, a scientific lecturer at the University of Glasgow, said: & although this is an interesting and comprehensive study … and builds on previous knowledge that a high caffeine consumption in the mother can have adverse effects on the fetus, we must Remember that these results are in rats.
& # 39; Caffeine may not have exactly the same effects as in humans due to inherent species differences (for example, differences in metabolism, genetic and environmental influences).
& # 39; We need more human research before we know if these findings translate to people – some pregnant women choose to avoid caffeine, which could not hurt, but that is a precaution and is not justified by this study only. & # 39;
Another researcher, Dr. Sarah Stock from the University of Edinburgh said she could not see the relevance.
Dr. Stock added: & # 39; This study shows that rats that received large amounts of caffeine during pregnancy have puppies that are smaller and have some changes in liver development.
& # 39; Although this is an interesting study in an animal model, the relevance for human pregnancy is not very clear. The doses of caffeine used in the study were much higher than the current pregnancy recommendations.
& # 39; UK guidelines are that pregnant women limit caffeine to less than 200 mg per day, and most pregnant women in the UK actually consume less than this. & # 39;
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