Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Science


Medical Biophysics


McKenzie, Charles A.


Maternal consumption of a Western diet (WD) has been linked to alterations in fetoplacental metabolic programming and risk for the exposed fetus to develop obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type II diabetes mellitus. It may also cause oxidative damage to the placental mitochondria. This thesis investigated the metabolic effects of a WD on placentae using a guinea pig model of pregnancy and hyperpolarized 13C MRI for metabolic quantification. It was hypothesized that placental glycolytic metabolism would increase, and placental oxidative metabolism would decrease in WD-fed sows. Control diet- and WD-fed, pregnant sows underwent metabolic MRI at 33 days gestation and were investigated by quantifying the placental lactate-, alanine-, and bicarbonate-to-pyruvate ratios. A statistically significant relationship was detected between placental appearance and metabolism that could be useful as a biomarker of fetoplacental health. These results reinforce the importance of placental metabolic research to determine the relationship between WD consumption and placental metabolism.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis investigated the effects of eating a high-fat, high-sugar diet during pregnancy. This type of diet is known as the Western diet (WD). The placenta is a temporary but critical organ of pregnancy that can be affected by a WD. The placenta supports the baby’s growth and development and provides nutrients. Eating a WD has the potential to impact our short- and long-term health negatively. Eating a WD can alter epigenetic mechanisms. These mechanisms influence how our bodies respond to and process the foods we eat. Changes to these mechanisms predispose a person to develop adverse health conditions. Eating a WD exposes the placenta to a toxic environment. This toxic environment may damage cellular structures and mechanisms involved in metabolism. It alters the processes our bodies use to derive energy from food. This study sought to detect these changes early in pregnancy. Early detection of these changes could be useful as a diagnostic tool. A diagnostic tool would be useful for understanding and detecting babies in metabolic distress. It was expected that eating a WD would result in less efficient methods of energy production. This study investigated metabolic changes in the placenta. A guinea pig model of pregnancy was used because guinea pigs have a similar placental structure and function to the human placenta. Guinea pigs were fed either a WD or a control diet. At mid-pregnancy, guinea pigs underwent specialized MRI techniques to measure metabolism and assess the physical characteristics of the placenta. No significant relationship was detected between diet and metabolism. However, a significant relationship was detected between placental characteristics and metabolism, and this relationship may be a useful indicator of a baby’s health. Future work should include the collection of extra mid-pregnancy data. Understanding babies in metabolic distress is critical to our short- and long-term health. Future studies need to clarify the relationship between diet and a baby's health.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License