The dangerous pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia could be prevented by taking dietary supplements, a study has found.
Pre-eclampsia normally happens after 20 weeks, and while the exact cause is unknown, it is believed to be connected to problems with placenta blood vessels.
The condition affects up to one in 10 pregnancies, causing headaches, blurred vision, swelling and high blood pressure. In 10% of cases, it can be life-threatening to the mother or baby.
Researchers looked into whether the risk of pre-eclampsia was impacted by a supplement that contains an amino acid and antioxidant vitamins.
It has been claimed by some experts that there is a connection between the condition and a deficiency in L-arginine, an amino acid that helps to maintain a healthy blood flow. Others think antioxidants could help protect women.
Overall, 30.2% of women in a placebo group developed pre-eclampsia, dropping to 22.5% in the antioxidant vitamin-only group, and 12.7% in the L-arginine plus vitamin group.
The results showed that those given L-arginine plus vitamins were significantly less likely to develop pre-eclampsia.
But antioxidant vitamins alone did not significantly reduce the risk.
The team also found that L-arginine plus vitamins significantly reduced the risk of premature birth compared with placebo.
The researchers, from universities in the US and Mexico, called for more studies but concluded: “We observed a significant reduction in the incidence of pre-eclampsia/eclampsia in pregnant women who consumed bars containing L-arginine plus antioxidant vitamins.
“The results of this trial support the proposed hypothesis that supplemental L-arginine can reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia.”
- Vadillo-Ortega F, et al. Effect of supplementation during pregnancy with L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins in medical food on pre-eclampsia in high risk population: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2011; Advance online publication
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