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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Study Considers Women at Risk for Gestational Diabetes

LAS CRUCES -- Concern about diabetes during pregnancy has prompted Dr. Maria Guadalupe Muņoz of Juarez to cross the U.S./Mexico border to study at New Mexico State University. Her research could lead to healthier babies on both sides of the border.

Hispanic women are two to five times more likely to develop gestational diabetes than the national average. Since nearly 50 percent of the births in New Mexico are to Hispanic women, the rate of the disease is higher here than in many places in the United States.

Muņoz said the incidence is high in Mexico as well. In Juarez, the rate is 11 percent, with another 9 percent at risk for developing gestational diabetes.

"We have a lot of diabetic people in Mexico who need nutritional advice," Muņoz said. "My studies in Mexico did not include classes about nutrition. I wanted to be prepared to give the advice they need."

In spring 1996, Muņoz, a family physician, began working on a master's degree in human nutrition with Wanda Morgan, an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics.

With her classes complete, Muņoz is now doing research for her thesis at the Pensiones Civiles, a clinic that serves 13,000 government workers and their families in Juarez. She's studying whether treating pregnant women at risk for developing gestational diabetes as if they already have the disease leads to healthier pregnancies and births.

Women with gestational diabetes are more likely to have babies that weigh 9 pounds or more, increasing the risk of cesarean delivery, Morgan said. The babies also are at increased risk for having low blood sugar (glucose) levels during the first few days of life.

Muņoz said research in Mexico has shown that similar problems face babies born to women who haven't been diagnosed with gestational diabetes but who have abnormal glucose levels.

Morgan said Muņoz' research is unique, because previous studies haven't considered this at-risk group.

With diabetes, blood glucose levels are not regulated normally in the body. When blood glucose is too high (hyperglycemia), people experience weakness, headaches, blurred vision and excessive thirst and urine production. When it's too low (hypoglycemia), they experience tremors, sweating, palpitations, fatigue, headaches and confusion.

Muņoz has 12 women in the study so far and expects to have at least 20 when she completes the research in December.

In the study, women with abnormal glucose levels -- usually detected in about the sixth month of pregnancy -- are randomly assigned to either the control group or the treatment group. Those in the control group receive the standard prenatal care offered at the clinic. Those in the treatment group have appointments at the clinic every two weeks, receive repeated glucose testing and get nutritional advice about managing their glucose levels.

"They need to follow a well-balanced diet with vegetables, fruits, grains and cereals," Muņoz said. "They should avoid sweets -- candies, cake, donuts -- and high-fat foods like burritos and tacos."

Although she only has preliminary results, Muņoz said so far the nutritional management is leading to fewer complications with labor and delivery.

"I'm really excited about this research. It's an excellent example of the cooperative ventures we can have between NMSU and health care professionals along the border," Morgan said.

Morgan, who is a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator, has studied how youth diabetes camps help kids learn to control the disease. She teaches a number of undergraduate and graduate classes in human nutrition, including community nutrition, sports nutrition, diet therapy and nutrition through the life cycle.