Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acid prevents malformations in offspring of diabetic rats

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1996 Oct;175(4 Pt 1):818-23. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9378(96)80005-6.


Objective: The purpose of the current study was to determine whether a dietary source of arachidonic acid could serve as a pharmacologic prophylaxis to obviate the teratogenic effects of hyperglycemia.

Study design: Eighty-day-old Sprague-Dawley rats were mated, and after conception were randomly allocated to five groups: two groups were nondiabetic normal controls and three groups had diabetes experimentally induced with streptozocin. Of the two control groups, one was fed a normal diet (group 1) and the other group (group 2) received a normal diet and 1.0 ml of safflower oil, a polyunsaturated fatty acid known to increase serum arachidonic acid levels. In the three diabetic groups (groups 3, 4, and 5) glucose levels were allowed to remain > 350 mg/dl by withholding daily insulin therapy. Group 3 received a normal diet without supplementation; group 4 received a normal diet plus normal saline solution sham feedings, whereas group 5 received a normal diet supplemented with 1.0 ml of safflower oil. The oral agents (normal saline solution and polyunsaturated fatty acid) were administered with a tuberculin syringe.

Results: Diabetic rats not receiving insulin therapy and receiving normal diets produced offspring with malformation rates of 20% compared with control rates of 4.8%. Supplemental normal saline solution or safflower oil given orally to controls did not alter the growth or malformation rates. These rates were similarly unaffected in the diabetic rats receiving oral supplementation of normal saline solution. However, with safflower oil supplementation to diabetic rats the incidence of neural tube defects was decreased from 20.0% to 7.6% (p < 0.0001). An inverse relationship was observed between the malformation rate and the serum arachidonic acid level: 17.83 (SD 5.84 micrograms/ml) in the nondiabetic controls, with a malformation rate of 4.8%, versus 14.18 (SD 2.58 micrograms/ml) in the diabetic rats, with a malformation rate of 20.0% (p < 0.05). With safflower oil supplementation serum levels of arachidonic increased from 14.18 +/- 2.58 micrograms/ml to 19.99 +/- 7.99 micrograms/ml (p < 0.05); this was associated with a concomitant decline in the malformation rate.

Conclusion: These data demonstrate that diabetic embryopathy is associated with a deficiency state in essential fatty acid, corroborating our previous in vitro findings. Furthermore, the use of a dietary polyunsaturated fatty acid that specifically increases arachidonic levels significantly reduced the incidence of diabetic embryopathy. These findings may serve as a basis for developing strategies of pharmacologic prophylaxis against diabetes-induced congenital malformations.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acid / blood
  • Arachidonic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / complications*
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Resorption / etiology
  • Fetal Resorption / prevention & control*
  • Neural Tube Defects / etiology
  • Neural Tube Defects / prevention & control*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Pregnancy in Diabetics*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Safflower Oil / pharmacology


  • Dietary Fats
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Safflower Oil