A new study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, surveyed a racially diverse group of more than 8,500 women and found that following a Mediterranean-style diet during pregnancy could reduce their risk of developing preeclampsia by at least 20%.
Preeclampsia is a leading cause of premature birth and a major contributor to maternal death in the United States. It is characterized by severe high blood pressure and organ damage, and it typically occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy.
According to the March of Dimes, preeclampsia affects 2% to 8% of pregnancies worldwide. In the United States, it is the cause of 15% (about 3 in 20) of premature births (before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Black women, who made up nearly half of the study’s participants, are at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia and appeared to have the greatest reduction of risk of this serious pregnancy complication.
“While this study strengthens the argument for a Mediterranean diet in pregnancy, as it may reduce preeclampsia, weight gain during pregnancy and diabetes, more detailed studies and clinical trials are needed to specifically evaluate this in order for us to make strong conclusions,” says Dr. Anushka Chelliah, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at The Woman's Hospital of Texas, an HCA Houston Healthcare affiliated hospital.
The Mediterranean diet, which consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, olive oil, whole grains and fish, has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease adults.
Eating healthy foods regularly is especially important for women during pregnancy, but Dr. Cindy Celnik, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist and chief medical officer of The Woman’s Hospital of Texas, encourages all women to follow a healthier lifestyle, including regular exercise and a healthy diet, at every stage of life.
The facts about preeclampsia
During pregnancy, the body goes through a lot of changes. Some may be common discomforts associated with pregnancy and others may be cause for concern. Early recognition of the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia may help you avoid complications.
Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include:
- Headache that doesn’t go away
- Changes in vision, like blurriness, flashing lights, seeing spots or being sensitive to light
- Trouble breathing
- Pain in the upper right belly area or in the shoulder
- Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting or dizziness
- Sudden weight gain (two to five pounds in a week)
- Swelling in the legs, hands or feet
Preeclampsia can affect you and your baby
Most women with preeclampsia will deliver healthy babies and fully recover, but some may experience life-threatening complications that affect the mother and/or her baby. If it is left untreated, it can cause the following complications:
- Organ failure
- Increased risk for kidney, liver or brain damage
- Preterm birth
Know your risks
We don’t know the exact cause of preeclampsia, but there are risk factors that predispose women to the condition. Some of the risk factors for preeclampsia are:
- Being of African-American descent
- Age 35 or older
- Being overweight
- Being pregnant with multiples
- Family history of preeclampsia
- First pregnancy
- History of preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
- Type 1 or type 2 diabetes before pregnancy
Preeclampsia is diagnosed by persistent high blood pressure typically after 20 weeks and can include high levels of protein in the urine, other laboratory abnormalities or symptoms. Your OB/GYN will routinely check your blood pressure during your regular visits to make sure it isn’t too high.
If you are diagnosed with preeclampsia, there are medications which may be used to control your blood pressure, and may prolong your pregnancy, and offer better protection for your baby; however ultimately delivery of your baby is the only cure.
If you have any concerns about your pregnancy or preeclampsia, be sure to speak with your OB/GYN to help ensure your delivery is a happy and healthy one.