Changes that happen to a women’s body during pregnancy are all but inevitable, and some more obvious than others. Most of us know that when women are pregnant they get a tummy bump, sometimes have morning sickness in the beginning, perhaps swollen ankles, but pregnancy can also spur other changes like key bodily processes too.
These bodily changes, namely metabolism, are one of the lesser-known changes, it’s the way the body deals with sugars, fats, and proteins to provide energy and the necessary materials for cells, tissues, and organs in the body to work as they should.
As pregnancy pushes forward women tend to develop insulin resistance, becoming almost diabetic, and in some cases very much so. This is a natural process in most cases and ensures the baby gets plenty of glucose so it can develop and grow.
A pregnant woman also store more fat, again to have in storage and be able to burn when it’s needed, as a woman is in the later stages of pregnancy she burns fat as she has never done before she was pregnant!
Immune system changes during a woman’s pregnancy
Changes that happen in the immune system during pregnancy contribute to the success of the pregnancy too, they are thought to be caused by the many hormones that are also changing while w woman is pregnant.
A baby is essentially half from mum and half from dad, well to keep things simple, and the mother’s immune system is then tightly kept in check so that the baby is not rejected, int’s an incredible and amazing thing!
The body achieves this by changing the numbers, location and/or activity of multiple subsets of maternal immune cells.
Monocytes (a kind of white blood cell) start to be more active, and other cells called neutrophils (yet another kind of white blood cell) increase in numbers. Both of these cell types play an important role in defending the body against viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
The body also initiates changes in T-cells too, which are lymphocytes, you guessed it, another type of white blood cell that has the job to remember, known as immunological memory.
So like if you have ever got ill in the past, or been immunized with a non-active very small dose or a virus, your body will build a way to defeat the invader, then it will remember this and next time it encounters the same invader it can respond even faster!
These T-cells achieve this by producing different sorts of proteins (+ other mediators) that cause different sorts of immune responses. Some are great for defending against viruses, others fight bacteria.
It’s the disruption of these patterns of mediators that are linked to cancers and autoimmune diseases.
These immune system changes protect the baby inside the mother, but also make a pregnant woman more susceptible to viruses like influenza, we don’t fully understand the changes yet, but this is one reason the flu jab is recommended for pregnant women.
Those women that have autoimmune diseases tend to experience changes in their disease symptoms too while they are pregnant. Some feel better and some feel worse depending on the disease. Again it’s not fully understood but we have some theories on how this might be happening.
Understanding these changes can really help us in the future, especially in understanding the underlying way these diseases function and how they are affected by pregnancy too, then logically how we can treat them too!
Metabolism and immune system research has a huge overlap and is generating a lot of interested, how energy substrates, so the sugars, fats, and proteins, can be used by our immune system to regulate immune response, especially when someone has cancer.
We now are beginning to think that changes in the use of these energy substrates, made by the immune system also drives these immune system changes that happen in pregnancy.
This is something that our research group is now looking into. Using blood samples from pregnant and not pregnant women, we are studying how different subsets of immune cells use different energy substrates to support their functions. We are mapping how these changes over pregnancy and contribute to the dynamic immune system changes that occur with pregnancy.
We can learn how body changes, the way it uses energy sources, during and after pregnancy, then we can use this to identify new ways to treat cancer and other diseases! And that is incredible!!