Eating a diet plentiful in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and healthy fats from nuts, olive oil and fish, also known as the Mediterranean-style diet during pregnancy may reduce the risk of preeclampsia. Black women appeared to have the greatest reduction of risk, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. This is the same diet that is proven to reduce heart disease risk in adults because of it’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Preeclampsia is a condition during pregnancy that leads to severe high blood pressure and liver or kidney damage. It is a major cause of complications and death for the mother and her unborn child. the condition also also increases a woman’s risk of heart diseases later in life by more than double, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke or heart failure. Women with preeclampsia have a higher risk of giving birth before 37 weeks gestation and having low-birth weight babies. Furthermore, children born to mothers with preeclampsia also are at higher risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease as they get older.
Using Diet to Reduce Risk of Preeclampsia
Black women are at higher risk of developing preeclampsia. However, the treatment options are limited, which is why this study is significant.
“The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries, and preeclampsia contributes to it,” said Anum S. Minhas, M.D., M.H.S., chief cardiology fellow and a cardio-obstetrics and advanced imaging fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Given these health hazards to both mothers and their children, it is important to identify modifiable factors to prevent the development of preeclampsia, especially among Black women who are at the highest risk of this serious pregnancy complication.”
More than 8,500 women, with a median age of 25, enrolled in the study from Boston Birth Cohort at Boston Medical Center. Nearly half of the participants were Black women (47%), about a quarter were Hispanic women(28%) and the remaining were white women or “other” race, according to self-reported information on a postpartum questionnaire. Researchers created a Mediterranean-style diet score based on participants’ responses to food intake interviews and questionnaires, which were conducted within three days of giving birth.
Here is what they found:
- 10% of the study participants developed preeclampsia.
- Women who had any form of diabetes before pregnancy and pre-pregnancy obesity were twice as likely to develop preeclampsia compared to women without those conditions.
- The risk of preeclampsia was more than 20% lower among the women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet during pregnancy.
- Black women who had the lowest Mediterranean-style diet scores had the highest risk (78%) for preeclampsia compared to all other non-Black women who more closely adhered to the Mediterranean-style diet.
“We were surprised that women who more frequently ate foods in the Mediterranean-style diet were significantly less likely to develop preeclampsia, with Black women experiencing the greatest reduction in risk,” Minhas said. “This is remarkable because there are very few interventions during pregnancy that are found to produce any meaningful benefit, and medical treatments during pregnancy must be approached cautiously to ensure the benefits outweigh the potential risks to the mother and the unborn child.”
The researchers concluded:
- Women should be encouraged to follow a nutritious diet and exercise at any age.
- Eating healthy foods regularly, including vegetables, fruits and legumes, is especially important for women during pregnancy.
- A woman’s health during pregnancy affects their future cardiovascular health and also impacts their baby’s health.
If you would like to see a naturopathic doctor during your pregnancy, please see INM’s Find an ND directory.
This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
Source: Anum S. Minhas, Xiumei Hong, Guoying Wang, Dong Keun Rhee, Tiange Liu, Mingyu Zhang, Erin D. Michos, Xiaobin Wang, Noel T. Mueller. Mediterranean‐Style Diet and Risk of Preeclampsia by Race in the Boston Birth Cohort. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2022; DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.121.022589
INM's team is made up of naturopathic doctors and health journalists.