(HealthDay News) – Women exposed to high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in early pregnancy have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, according to research presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Stockholm, Sweden.

The study involved nearly 640 Greek women included in the Mother-Child Cohort in Crete, Greece. Women who became pregnant over a one-year period starting in February 2007 were asked to participate in this study. They were followed throughout their pregnancy and for up to seven years after they gave birth. Study author Leda Chatzi, MD, PhD, from the University of Crete in Heraklion, and colleagues measured concentrations of several organic pollutants in the women’s blood. The women were also screened for gestational diabetes between their 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes was diagnosed in 7% of the women. The researchers found that a 10-fold increase in total exposure to PCBs was linked with a 4.4 times greater risk for gestational diabetes. Exposure to dichlorodiphenyldichloroethene (DDE, a breakdown product of DDT) and hexachlorobenzene (HCB) during early pregnancy, however, wasn’t associated with gestational diabetes risk.

“These findings suggest that women with high PCB levels in early pregnancy had higher risk for gestational diabetes. Further studies are needed to replicate these results and to evaluate potential biological mechanisms underlying the observed associations,” the study authors said in a news release. “Our future research in this cohort will examine whether prenatal exposure to persistent organic pollutants is associated with alterations in glucose metabolism and diabetes development of the offspring in early childhood,” they added.

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