Pregnancy, Science, and Technology

The next issue of the journal Science includes an article about gestational diabetes[1]., which is specific to women while they’re pregnant. An increasing number of women are getting this particular form of blood sugar derangement. Although the condition goes away after the child is born, a woman who has had gestational diabetes is more likely to have type 2 diabetes later in her life. The health of the fetus is also challenged in the womb and can affect its health throughout life.

What the Science article reports is that hormones affect this particular form of blood sugar derangement. One is prolactin, a hormone produced all the time in both men and women but which increases when a women is pregnant. Until now it has been associated principally with preparing the mother’s breasts for making milk.

Prolactin levels affect the levels of another hormone called menin that is also present in men and women at all times but decreases when a woman becomes pregnant. Prolactin goes up, menin goes down.

When a woman becomes pregnant, her body circulates more nutrients including blood sugar to nourish the fetus. Normally her insulin production increases to handle the added load. Her body creates more insulin by growing more beta cells. What the researchers discovered is that the signal to grow more beta cells comes from the decrease in that hormone menin caused by the increase in prolactin.

If menin doesn’t decrease, the extra beta cells don’t grow, blood sugars aren’t cleared properly, and the woman will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes. However, when the researchers treated experimental mice suffering from gestational diabetes with prolactin or better yet a combination of prolactin and progesterone, menin secretion went down as it’s supposed to and the gestational diabetes went away.

Just to be clear, these were one set of experiments performed on mice not humans.

The message that leapt off the page to me was that gestational diabetes is a consequence of hormone imbalance. You’ve heard a lot about that issue on this program, so I’ll only remind you that there are many non-invasive ways to support a woman’s body in restoring hormone balance.

However, the message from the researchers and particularly for the PR department at Science, which is the official publication of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, is the development of drugs that will force menin levels down. This is a particular kind of blindness that we should work eliminate.

The historian David Noble writes that the marriage of science and technology stretches back at least 1,000 years[2]. And by “technology” I do not mean inherently evil machines and chemicals in contrast to what is referred to as “natural.” Organic farming is a technology. Up until about 100 years ago, “technology” was referred to as either the practical arts or the useful arts. In other words, how we put what we know to good use.

Health science has been strapped to a particular kind of technology: the drugs, surgery, and medical devices that dominate medical care. The Science researchers celebrated, in a very subdued way, the possibility a new drug. Why didn’t they celebrate the opening of a pathway to a different, non-invasive technology? Because they didn’t see it.

But you and I can. Why? Because we’re really looking for the useful arts. How do we get science strapped to those useful arts? That’s one of the reasons we’ve created the Sustainable Health Institute.

Should a woman look for the medical technologies that suppress gestational diabetes, a condition that is a symptom of hormone imbalance? Or should she look for the useful arts that will bring her hormones into balance?

[1] Karnik, Satyajit et al. 2007. Menin Controls Growth of Pancreatic b-Cells in Pregnant Mice and Promotes Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Science 2 NOVEMBER 2007 VOL 318.

[2] Noble, David. 1999. The Religion of Technology. New York: Penguin.