Diet high in fruit and vegetables may protect against pre-eclampsia in pregnancy because the fibre ‘boosts levels of a nutrient that regulates the immune system’
- Gut bacteria produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) when fibre breaks down
- Mothers with low SCFAs are more likely to develop high blood pressure
- SCFAs are anti-inflammatory, which may help regulate the immune system
Pregnant women who eat a fibre-rich diet may be less at risk of pre-eclampsia, research suggests.
Gut bacteria produce nutrients called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) when they break down dietary fibre found in fruit and vegetables.
A study found expectant mothers with low levels of the SCFA acetate in their bloodstream were more likely to develop dangerously high blood pressure.
Although pre-eclampsia’s exact cause is unclear, it is thought to be related to poor immune function.
SCFAs are known to be anti-inflammatory, which may help regulate the immune system.
Researchers from Australia urge pregnant women to ‘eat real food, mostly plants, and not too much’ to reduce their risk.
Pregnant women who eat a fibre-rich diet may be less at risk of pre-eclampsia (stock)
The research was carried out by the University of Sydney and Deakin University in Geelong.
It was co-led by Dr Ralph Nanan, a professor of paediatrics & child health in Sydney and Professor Peter Vuillermin, director of research at Deakin.
‘The mother’s gut bacteria and diet appear to be crucial to promoting a healthy pregnancy,’ Dr Nanan said.
Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy condition that causes high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
It affects up to six per cent of pregnancies in the UK, according to the charity Tommy’s.
And in the US, between five and eight per cent of expectant mothers develop the disorder, Preeclampsia Foundation statistics show.
The condition, which can be deadly for both a mother and her unborn child, can only be cured by delivering the baby. Sufferers have to be closely monitored until it is safe to do so.
Pre-eclampsia is thought to be caused by the placenta not developing properly due to a problem with the blood vessels that ‘feed’ it.
Past studies suggest pregnant women who take probiotics are less likely to develop the condition.
Eating a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fibre-rich foods has also been shown to protect against pre-eclampsia.
Exactly why this occurs is unclear, however, the condition seems to have an ‘immune basis’, the researchers wrote in the journal Nature Communications.
To better understand pre-eclampsia, the researchers analysed the condition in pregnant mice and women.
Out of the 887 expectant mothers in the study, 24 developed pre-eclampsia later on in their pregnancies.
The risk of developing the condition went down by 77 per cent for every 30 per cent increase in acetate in a woman’s bloodstream, the study found.
‘Normal’ acetate levels range between 70 and 100 milligrams per litre, the researchers wrote.
Pre-eclampsia also affected the development of the thymus in the human foetuses.
The thymus makes T cells, which travel throughout the body to fight infections.
It also produce hormones that help T cells develop and keeps the immune system working properly.
Among the women with pre-eclampsia, their children’s T-cell numbers remained low even four years after they were born.
When the researchers looked into this in mice, they found acetate drives both foetal thymus and T cell development.
Acetate has previously been shown to protect against the development of food allergies, asthma and type 1 diabetes by regulating the immune system.
‘More studies are urgently needed to understand how we can best target this system to reduce the growing burden of immune related diseases in the modern world,’ Professor Vuillermin said.
WHAT IS PRE-ECLAMPSIA?
Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication that causes high blood pressure, which can be deadly for both a woman and her unborn baby if untreated.
It usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure is typically normal.
The most effective treatment is an early delivery; usually via C-section.
However, this may not be best for the baby if it is early on in the pregnancy.
Pre-eclampsia affects about 25,000 women in England and Wales each year, and four per cent of pregnancies in the US.
It can have no symptoms if it develops gradually rather than coming on suddenly.
A blood pressure reading above 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) on two occasions is usually the first sign.
Other symptoms may include:
- Severe headaches
- Blurred vision, temporary loss of sight or light sensitivity
- Upper abdominal pain, particularly under the ribs on the right side
- Nausea or vomiting
- Reduced urination
- Shortness of breath due to a build up of fluid in the lungs
Sudden weight gain, and swelling in the face and hands, are also symptoms, however, these can occur during normal pregnancies.
Pre-eclampsia is thought to begin in the placenta when its blood vessels narrow and do not react to hormones properly.
This reduces the amount of blood that flows through them.
Its underlying cause may be genetic, due to a problem with a woman’s immune system or existing blood vessel damage.
A woman is more at risk if she, or a member of her family, suffered from pre-eclampsia before.
The risk is also highest during the first pregnancy, and if a woman is over 40; obese; black; having a multiple birth, like twins; or conceived via IVF.
Existing medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, migraines and kidney disease also raise the risk.
If untreated, pre-eclampsia can restrict a baby’s growth or cause it to be delivered early.
The placenta can also separate from the uterus wall, which can lead to severe bleeding.
A woman may also suffer seizures, organ damage and even heart disease as a result of untreated pre-eclampsia.
Although treatment is usually inducing labour, if it is too early to deliver the baby, medications may be prescribed to lower a woman’s blood pressure.
There is no clear advice on how to prevent pre-eclampsia, however, research suggests taking a low-dose of aspirin and calcium supplements may help.
Pregnant women should talk to their doctor before taking any drugs or supplements.
Source: Mayo Clinic
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