Mediterranean diet linked to lower preeclampsia risk in pregnant people

Science and Health

Pregnant women who eat a healthful Mediterranean diet were shown to have a significantly lower risk of developing preeclampsia before they give birth, a new study has shown.

Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure condition that develops during pregnancy and puts stress on the mother’s heart. Left untreated, the condition can cause serious complications like weakened kidney and liver functions and decreased blood supply to the fetus.

A new study at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles – one of the largest nonprofit academic medical centers in the US – evaluated the Mediterranean diet and adverse pregnancy outcomes. The team of researchers found that women who conceived while adhering to the anti-inflammatory diet had a significantly lower risk of developing preeclampsia.

The study has just been published in the journal JAMA Network under the title “Association of a Mediterranean Diet Pattern With Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes Among US Women.”

They also evaluated the association between the Mediterranean diet and other adverse pregnancy outcomes, including gestational diabetes and hypertension, preterm birth, delivery of a small-for-gestational-age infant and stillbirth.

Israel nutrition (credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

“This multicenter, population-based study validates that a healthier eating pattern is associated with a lower risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, the most exciting being a 28% lower risk for preeclampsia.”

Dr. Natalie Bello

“This multicenter, population-based study validates that a healthier eating pattern is associated with a lower risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, the most exciting being a 28% lower risk for preeclampsia,” said Dr. Natalie Bello, a leading author of the study, senior and corresponding author of the study and director of the hospital’s hypertension research unit.

She added, “Importantly, this connection between the Mediterranean diet and lower risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes was seen in a geographically, racially and ethnically diverse population.”

She further added that the association was stronger in women who are traditionally considered to be of advanced maternal age, those 35 or older. In addition to preeclampsia, the risk of gestational diabetes also decreased in women who more closely followed the heart-healthy diet.

How does the Mediterranean diet help pregnant people?

The study examined the data of 7,798 women who were pregnant with their first child. They were asked to complete a semi-quantitative food – frequency questionnaire during their first study visit during the first trimester.

The questionnaire focused on the women’s eating habits during the three months prior to their visit and asked the participants to report their intake of common foods and beverages. Individuals’ responses were then categorized into the nine components of a Mediterranean diet – vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, monounsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio, red and processed meats and alcohol to calculate a Mediterranean diet score. A fifth of them were obese when they joined the study.

A high Mediterranean diet score was related to 21% lower odds of having any adverse pregnancy outcome, as well as a 37% lower risk of having gestational diabetes. “We also looked at the individual components of the Mediterranean diet and found higher intakes of vegetables, legumes and fish were related to lower associated risk of an adverse pregnancy outcome,” said Bello

Cardiology department chairperson Dr. Christine Albert, who was not involved in the study, commented that taken together, these findings uniquely demonstrate that in American women, adoption of a Mediterranean diet pattern may represent an important lifestyle approach for the prevention of adverse pregnancy outcomes, particularly in women with advanced maternal age. “These findings add to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that the Mediterranean-style diet may play an important role in preserving the health of women across the lifespan, including during pregnancy.”