Adult men and women who were exposed to famine in utero during the earliest stages of gestation exhibit an abnormal lipid profile, according to research published in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Mothers of the 704 subjects of the study all consumed rations varying from 400 to 880 kilocalories per day during the German occupation of Holland in 1944-45. The famine was clearly delineated within a 5 month time period and, unlike other famines that have been studied, was preceded and followed by periods of relatively good nutrition. Participants were differentiated between persons who were exposed in utero to famine in late gestation, mid gestation, and early gestation. All of the subjects were 50 years old at the time of the study. As adults, lipid measurements were similar among those born before the famine and study subjects who were exposed either during middle or late gestation. However, participants exposed to famine in early gestation had significantly higher total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and 14% higher LDL:HDL cholesterol ratio than other groups. These findings suggest that maternal malnutrition in the first trimester permanently alters the lipid profile of the offspring later in life.
According to the authors, Roseboom et al., "The Dutch famine can be considered a unique experiment of history' to study the effects of maternal malnutrition during different stages of gestation in humans. " Subjects exposed in early gestation had a higher BMI (Body Mass Index) than other groups. Even after adjustment for higher BMI's, LDL:HDL ratios still differed from that of nonexposed men or women. Further adjustment for other adult lifestyle factors such as socioeconomic status, smoking, or use of lipid-lowering medication did not alter the results of the study.