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Researchers prove that fructose intake during pregnancy could strengthen COVID in offspring

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The research group 'Nutrigenomics and fetal programming-NUTRIPRO', led by the Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the School of Pharmacy, Carlos Bocos, has published an article in the Journal of Functional Foods proving that the offspring of a mother who only consumed fructose during pregnancy, in response to a Western diet, produced higher levels of the proteins that allow and enhance the entry of SARS-CoV2 into the cell, when compared to the offspring of mothers in the control group.

Fructose is used as added sugar in the form of sucrose or high fructose corn syrup in a wide variety of processed foods and sugary drinks. The consumption of these foods correlates with the epidemic increase in "processed food-related metabolic diseases" such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, fatty liver disease and cancer.

Dr. Bocos explains: "The metabolic events that occur during the pre- and postnatal development of the individual modulate the risk of developing metabolic disease later in life, with the maternal diet being the most relevant factor. And yet, the consumption of fructose-enriched beverages and/or foods continues to be unregulated during pregnancy."

Moreover, the severity of COVID-19 has been linked to these metabolic diseases. "We have found that maternal fructose intake does boost the increase, induced by the Western diet, of SARS-CoV2 entry factors in the small intestine of offspring. Therefore, the offspring of mothers who consumed fructose would be more prone to developing this virally-originated pathology than the progeny of pregnant women who did not consume fructose," Dr. Bocos reports.

Studies on the pathophysiology of SARS-CoV2 infection in people with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity have found that the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreatic islets and adipose tissue are also affected. However, this research barely observed effects on the liver. To elucidate these mechanisms, the use of a rat model of fetal programming was induced by maternal fructose intake in which typical metabolic syndrome characteristics appear in the offspring, directly or after fructose supplementation.

"In this study, we investigated, on the one hand, whether the consumption of fructose alone or as part of a Western diet affects gene expression in the liver and small intestine of proteins that allow and enhance the entry of SARS-CoV2 into the cell and, on the other hand, whether all of this could be influenced by maternal fructose intake. Fructose was provided to pregnant rats in drinking water, and subsequently, the offspring were studied after consuming water, liquid fructose alone or as part of a Western diet," explains Carlos Bocos.

Taking into account both the role assigned to processed foods and beverages rich in fructose as a factor promoting the development of many common non-communicable diseases such as atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome, and also the increasingly evident relationship of these metabolic diseases with the severity of COVID pathology, this research proposes that a worldwide reduction in the consumption of beverages and foods containing fructose, especially during gestation, would have clearly beneficial effects on the population.

Professor Carlos Bocos leads a research group at CEU San Pablo University made up of  the lecturers Maribel Panadero, Elena Fauste, and Paola Otero, and two doctoral students, Cristina Donis and Madelín Pérez-Armas. This work has also been carried out in collaboration with the CQS laboratory in Rivas-Vaciamadrid, led by Dr. Álvarez-Millán. The study has been funded by two projects from the Ministry of Science and Innovation SAF2017-89537-R and PID2020-118054RB-I00 (MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033).


More information:

E. Fauste, C. Donis, M. Pérez-Armas, L. Rodríguez, S. Rodrigo, J.J. Álvarez-Millán, P. Otero, M.I. Panadero, C. Bocos. Maternal fructose boosts the effects of a Western-type diet increasing SARS-COV-2 cell entry factors in male offspring. J Funct Foods 100, 2023, 105366.

Palabras clave Fructose Pregnancy Offspring Sweetened beverages Processed foods