Bad eggs: more casualties in the obesity epidemic

Studies by University of Adelaide doctoral student Cadence Minge have shown that a high fat diet can cause damage to eggs in ovaries. And when fertilised, these eggs do not develop into normal, healthy embryos.

The work -performed in mice – provides an explanation for the increasing numbers of overweight and obese women who have difficulty in conceiving. It also underscores the importance of diet for women interested in the healthiest possible future for their babies.

“Despite the wide-ranging, well recognized, health risks associated with excess body weight, Australia’s waistline continues to expand,” says Minge, who works at the Research Centre for Reproductive Health.

“Nearly one in three women of reproductive age is overweight or obese. We hope our findings will encourage women to consider carefully the impact of their lifestyle choices on their own future and that of their children.”

But there’s another side to this story. Minge’s most recent findings have identified a key component linking diet and infertility-a protein known as peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARg). When this protein is activated by the drug rosiglitazone-marketed for diabetes in Australia as Avandia-the adverse effects of obesity on egg quality are completely reversed.

“Embryo growth rates are restored, and cell development is improved,” Minge says. “In the longer-term, these improvements would result in increased birth weight and fetal survival.

“Rosiglitazone is not considered a safe treatment option for obese, infertile women at this stage, but these findings are of great significance to researchers,” Minge says. “If we can pinpoint the critical controls of egg quality, it should allow women to maximise the likelihood of healthy conception.”

Cadence Minge is one of 16 early-career scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Federal and Victorian Governments.

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