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Metformin in Gestational Diabetes

Children exposed to metformin had larger measures of subcutaneous fat, but overall body fat was the same as in children whose mothers were treated with insulin alone.

In women with gestational diabetes mellitus, who were randomized to metformin or insulin treatment, pregnancy outcomes were similar (Metformin in Gestational diabetes [MiG] trial). Metformin crosses the placenta, so it is important to assess potential effects on growth of the children.

In Auckland, New Zealand, and Adelaide, Australia, women who had participated in the MiG trial were reviewed when their children were 2 years old. Body composition was measured in 154 and 164 children whose mothers had been randomized to metformin and insulin, respectively. Children were assessed with anthropometry, bioimpedance, and dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), using standard methods.

The results of the study showed that the children were similar for baseline maternal characteristics and pregnancy outcomes. In the metformin group, compared with the insulin group, children had larger mid-upper arm circumferences (17.2 ± 1.5 vs. 16.7 ± 1.5 cm; P = 0.002) and subscapular (6.3 ± 1.9 vs. 6.0 ± 1.7 mm; P = 0.02) and biceps skinfolds (6.03 ± 1.9 vs. 5.6 ± 1.7 mm; P = 0.04). Total fat mass and percentage body fat assessed by bioimpedance (n = 221) and DEXA (n = 114) were not different.

These findings are important for two reasons: first, they suggest that maternal metformin treatment during pregnancy may lead to a more favorable pattern of fat distribution for exposed children; second, they suggest that simple measures of central fat may not be adequate for determining the potential effects of in utero exposure to metformin. The central fat measures used in this study provided a combined measure of subcutaneous and visceral fat, so further studies will be needed to confirm whether the children exposed to metformin have less visceral fat.

In conclusion, children exposed to metformin had larger measures of subcutaneous fat, but overall body fat was the same as in children whose mothers were treated with insulin alone. Further follow-up is required to examine whether these findings persist into later life and whether children exposed to metformin will develop less visceral fat and be more insulin sensitive. If so, this would have significant implications for the current pandemic of diabetes.

Rowan JA, Hague WM, Gao W, Battin MR, Moore MP; MiG Trial Investigators. Metformin versus insulin for the treatment of gestational diabetes. N Engl J Med 2008;358:2003–2015