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The University of Southampton

Link between umbilical cord blood and bone mass of newborn babies

Published: 20 January 2004

Scientists at the Medical Research Council's Environmental Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton have found evidence to suggest that there is a strong link between levels of growth promoters in the umbilical cord blood at birth and the bone mass of the newborn baby. These levels are affected by environmental stimuli such as maternal nutrition, smoking and exercise; adverse effects could increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life.

In a study which was published this month in The Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, Professor Cyrus Cooper, Professor of Rheumatology and Director of the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre at the University of Southampton and his team characterised a group of women for lifestyle, body composition and nutrition during their pregnancies and then measured 119 infants from the cohort using a new application of dual energy x-ray absorptiometry.

They evaluated the relationship between levels of umbilical cord serum IGF-1 (a strong promoter of bone growth), maternal diet and lifestyle with the bone mass of the newborn baby.

The researchers found strong positive associations between concentrations of IGF-1 in umbilical cord blood at birth and the bone mass of the newborn baby. The study also provided unique insights into the way neonatal body composition might be established; thus IGF-1 was positively correlated with proportionate fat mass, but negatively correlated with proportionate muscle mass.

"We and others have previously shown that the risk of osteoporosis in later life might be increased by adverse environmental stimuli acting at critical periods during early development," comments Professor Cooper. "The findings of this pioneering study suggest that environmental factors while the baby is in the womb modulate the subsequent body composition of the growing fetus; this in turn has major implications for the risk of osteoporosis, as well as heart disease and diabetes, in later life."

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