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A large, diverse study suggests the Mediterranean diet could reduce risk of the preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that often occurs midway through pregnancy.  Dangerous for mom and baby, the impacts of preeclampsia can extend beyond delivery.  Women with higher blood pressure going into pregnancy are monitored throughout, but preeclampsia can develop in women with normal blood pressure at the outset of pregnancy.

Symptoms of mild preeclampsia can be passed off as incident to pregnancy if not carefully monitored by a healthcare provider. Delay in treating preeclampsia can cause serious complications including heart, kidney, and liver damage.  High blood pressure can also cause seizures.  Similarly, preeclampsia impairs blood flow to the baby and can impact growth or cause stillbirth.  Early delivery can become an only option for survival of mom and baby, leading to lifelong problems associated with prematurity. Even after pregnancy, women who experience preeclampsia have increased risk for stroke and cardiovascular problems later in life.

Worldwide, preeclampsia affects approximately eight percent of pregnancies each year. There are a number of risk factors including first-time pregnancy, autoimmune disorders, twins or multiple pregnancies, and genetic predisposition, among others.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine looked at how diet might influence the development of preeclampsia. In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), researchers sought to identify criteria that could be used to prevent preeclampsia.  The authors focused on whether a Mediterranean diet could be a protective factor.

This study utilized high quality data from 8,507 women enrolled in the Boston Birth Cohort.  Started in 1998, the Boston Birth Cohort is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and provides comprehensive data on epidemiological, clinical, and environmental factors during pregnancy.  This large study included a racially and ethnically diverse data set of urban and low-income participants.

The study group scored the diet of participants based on food groups related to the well-known Mediterranean diet including, legumes, rice, pasta, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and seafood. The diet sets limits on red meats and processed food. Overall, women who reported adhering to a Mediterranean type diet reduced their risk of preeclampsia by 20 percent. The group had previously found the Mediterranean diet reduced risk of low birth rate and premature birth.

Lead author Dr. Anum Minhas, a chief Cardiology Fellow noted, “The United States is the only developed country with a rise in maternal mortality and morbidity, so we are excited about this new finding that strengthens recommendations that following a healthy diet is a safe way to help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.”

Preeclampsia is a dangerous driver of pregnancy complication and stillbirth. Obstetricians and healthcare providers who guide women through pregnancy are well situated to offer dietary advice to women as a tool they can use to help themselves—and their babies—throughout pregnancy and beyond.

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