William Withey Gull studied paraplegia, anorexia, and hormones as a physician in England during the nineteenth century. In addition to caring for patients, he described the role of the posterior column of the spinal cord in paraplegia, and he was among the first to describe the conditions of anorexia and of hypochondria. He also researched the effects of thyroid hormone deficiencies in women who had malfunctioning thyroid glands. Gull's research on thyroid hormone confirmed that chemicals in the body directly affect health, and he contributed to the foundation of endocrinology, the scientific field for the study of hormones.
During the twentieth century, Norbert Freinkel studied hormones and diabetes in the US. Freinkel conducted many experiments that enabled him to determine the factors that influence hormones of the thyroid gland to bind to proteins and to determine the effects that those thyroid hormones have on surrounding tissues. Furthermore, Freinkel researched gestational diabetes, which is diabetes that occurs for the first time during a women’s pregnancy. That type of diabetes is caused by a change in the way a woman’s body responds to insulin, a hormone made in the body. Infants who are born from pregnant women with gestational diabetes can possess many different medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, respiratory distress syndrome, and low blood sugar. Through his research on gestational diabetes, Freinkel found that all pregnant women go through metabolic changes, not just gestational diabetics.
Norbert Freinkel’s lecture Of Pregnancy and Progeny was published by the American Diabetes Association’s journal Diabetes in December of 1980. In the lecture, Freinkel argued that pregnancy changes the way that the female body breaks down and uses food. Through experiments that involved pregnant women as well as infants, Freinkel established the body’s maternal metabolism and how it affects both the mother and the infant. Freinkel’s main focus of research in the latter part of his life was diabetes, specifically in pregnant women. Diabetes occurs in around one to three percent of all pregnancies, which is 30,000 to 90,000 women a year in the US. Freinkel’s article indicates that pregnancy influences the metabolism in all pregnant females and that pregnancy complicated by diabetes is only an exaggeration of what occurs in all pregnant women. Subsequently, many doctors more closely monitored pregnant women and their blood sugar and insulin levels, as doctors were informed that all pregnant women have the capacity to become diabetic.
From 1987 to the late 1990s, James Haddow and his team of researchers at the Foundation for Blood Research in Scarborough, Maine, studied children born to women who had thyroid deficiencies while pregnant with those children. Haddow's team focused the study on newborns who had normal thyroid function at the time of neonatal screening. They tested the intelligence quotient, or IQ, of the children, ages eight to eleven years, and found that all of the children born to thyroid-hormone deficient mothers performed less well than the control group. Haddow and his colleagues published the experiment and results, Maternal Thyroid Deficiency during Pregnancy and Subsequent Neuropsychological Development of the Childin 1999. Haddow and his team proposed that undetected low thyroid hormone production in mothers, or maternal hypothyroidism, could adversely affect the neuropsychological development of children.