The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Liz Campbell Headshot

Why Pregnancy Reveals So Much About Women's Future Health

Posted: Updated:

Last week was really inspiring for the Wellbeing of Women team. We held our Annual Women's Lunch Debate, at which we asked 200 of the most interesting and influential women we know (including our fundraisers and ambassadors) to help us make choices about how we invest our money in research in the year ahead.

The event was hosted by Sky News anchor Kay Burley. Other key guests included our chairman Sir Victor Blank, Vice Chair Eve Pollard, Dame Mary Archer, Emma Forbes and Emma Bridgewater.
At Wellbeing of Women, we pride ourselves on choosing projects very carefully and our Annual Lunch Debate has often led to great strides forward in medicine.

Equally, I don't think that there is a single occasion in London when you would find such an exciting, interesting and diverse group of women gathered in the same place.

The theme of this year's debate was to encourage women to take a longer view of their health and prevent potential disease in later life.

Our keynote speaker was Professor Lesley Regan a highly-regarded obstetrician-gynaecologist from St Mary's Hospital, London. She gave a fascinating insight into how pregnancy is huge indicator for future health problems.

She explained that during pregnancy the body is stressed to its upmost extent and long-term medical issues often emerge. Doctors tend to ignore this evidence, preferring to just focus on immediate matters. Professor Regan argued that in doing so, they are missing a great opportunity to help women safeguard their health.

For example, if you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy you have a much higher likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes in middle age. If you have high blood pressure during pregnancy you have a higher risk of suffering a stroke or heart disease in later life. Furthermore, should a woman develop post-natal depression she will probably need to access to mental health services at later stages.

If we told women about these realities we could help protect them. In many cases, all it takes are a few basic lifestyle changes to swing the balance in women's favour.

Professor Regan also discussed how epigenetic changes in the foetus during pregnancy depend on the environment that the mother creates for the child. In other words, if a woman is very anxious or stressed during pregnancy her child is much more likely to battle anxiety and depression in the future. If a woman is obese her child is more likely to battle obesity and type two diabetes. Professor Regan's view is that pregnancy is an opportunity to improve if not save two lives. So, why aren't we using it?

Our other speakers at the event were equally compelling and interesting. We heard from Professor Wass, an eminent endocrinologist, who said scientists can now identify the faulty genes that cause polycystic ovaries or thyroid disease. However, more money is needed to turn that information into combative treatments.

Our final speaker was an impressive woman indeed! Doctor Sarah Blagden gratefully revealed that her career as a medical oncology consultant had been saved by a grant from Wellbeing of Women. We are equally delighted we saved her career because she is doing crucial research into ovarian cancer. Among other things, she is discovering why some forms of the disease respond to chemotherapy and others do not. Her studies could lead to one of the biggest breakthroughs in ovarian cancer - and not a moment too soon. Only last week it was announced that women are dying needlessly in the UK because they are not diagnosed early enough. I was interviewed about this issue on Sky News.

As I see it, we women can be so badly informed about our health that we don't go to the doctor when worrying symptoms present themselves. When we do go to the doctor we often have no idea what's wrong. Whereas those of us who have looked at a reputable health website might be in a better position, they can say: 'Doctor, do you think it's this? Doctor do you think it's that?' The more focused and informed you are as a patient the stronger your position.

Sadly though, even if you do get an early diagnosis of ovarian cancer, the treatments are often ineffective. There have been no major breakthroughs in treating this cruel disease for a very a long time and this is simply due to a lack of money. The much higher survival rates in breast cancer, lung cancer and bowel cancer are thanks to the large funds that have been poured into research. We at Wellbeing of Women hope to see ovarian cancer rising to the top of the health agenda in the near future.

www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk

Presented by Breast Cancer Campaign