Pregnancy: A Mediterranean-style diet could reduce risk of pre-eclampsia

Asian pregnant woman eating a bowl of granola with yoghurt and mixed berries, sitting on bed.  Eating well during pregnancy.  Healthy lifestyles in pregnancy.

The condition affects 6% of people in pregnancy (Credits: Getty Images)

Families-to-be may need to stock up on olive oil as a new American study has revealed that the Mediterranean diet may help reduce women’s risk of developing pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.

The condition affected both Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé during pregnancy and affects 6% people in pregnancy.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study seems to show that pregnant people on a Mediterranean diet had an almost 20% decreased risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

A Mediterranean-type diet may improve oxidative stress or endothelial cell function – which link blood vessels to tissue, according to its authors.

It may also boost placenta blood flow and support healthy cell metabolism.

What is pre-eclampsia?

‘Pre-eclampsia is a condition that affects some pregnant women, usually during the second half of pregnancy (from 20 weeks) or soon after their baby is delivered,’ the NHS states.

Early signs of the condition include having high blood pressure and protein in your urine – which will be picked up on at antenatal appointments as well as a severe headache, vision disturbances, such as blurring or flashing, pain just below the ribs, vomiting and sudden swelling of the face, hands and feet.

Many cases are mild but the condition can lead to serious complications for both the birthing person and unborn child if not monitored and treated.

The earlier pre-eclampsia is diagnosed and monitored, the better the outlook for mother and baby.

If you notice any symptoms, seek medical advice immediately by calling your midwife, GP surgery or NHS 111.

Mixed tomato salad with mozzarella cheese and basil leaves.  Mediterranean cuisine

The diet is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil (Credits: Getty Images / iStockphoto)

Who did the study look at?

The study looked into health data from 8,500 women who answered questions about diet and eating habits and found that 10% of the individuals developed pre-eclampsia with those who had diabetes or obesity before pregnancy were twice as likely to develop the condition.

Those who adhered to a Mediterranean-style diet had a 20% lower risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

The risk reduction was greatest amongst Black women, who are at a 72% increased risk for preeclampsia compared to white or Hispanic women.

Prior research on Mediterranean-style diets and preeclampsia has been mixed, which the authors claim may be due to the lack of high-risk women included in the studies.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26: Kim Kardashian arrives at the InStyle Awards at Getty Center on October 26, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff / FilmMagic)

Kim Kardashian suffered from the condition during pregnancy (Photo by Jon Kopaloff / FilmMagic)

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet is seen as a good way of eating for general well-being, according to Heart UK.

High in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil with a low intake of meat and dairy.

What the experts think

‘A healthy diet such as healthy eating patterns suggested by the UK Eatwell Guide or a Mediterranean style diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and is especially important during pregnancy,’ explains Dr Annette Creedon, Nutrition Manager, British Nutrition Foundation.

‘The diet eaten during pregnancy can not only influence the mother’s health, but it can also affect the short- and long-term health of the baby. Therefore, it is important that a healthy, balanced, and varied diet is eaten in pregnancy.

‘The causes of preeclampsia are not fully understood, but it can be associated with substantial complications for the woman and the baby.

‘In the study,’ Mediterranean-style diet and risk of preeclampsia by race in the Boston birth cohort ‘it was found that, in women who self-reported eating a Mediterranean style diet, there was a 20% or greater, reduced risk of developing preeclampsia even after accounting for other risk factors.

‘However, these findings were based on food frequency questionnaires which were conducted only once, 24-72 hours after delivery and relied on self-reported information about which foods were eaten and how often.

Happy Black Pregnant Woman Holding Bowl With Fresh Vegetable Salad, Enjoying Healthy Nutrition, Having Organic Vegetarian Meal For Lunch, Sitting On Bed At Home, Closeup Shot With Free Space

A Mediterranean style diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and is especially important during pregnancy (Credits: Getty Images / iStockphoto)

‘Although the study highlights the link between a healthy diet and overall better pregnancy outcomes, there is a need for further clinical trials to confirm the benefits of a Mediterranean style diet in lowering the likelihood of preeclampsia in diverse groups of women.’

‘Eating healthily when expecting can only be a good thing and you can find out more about what that means on our Pregnancy and diet: Food Fact Sheet,’ explains Dr Duane Mellor, BDA Spokesperson and registered dietitian.

‘The study seems to be talking about more of a generally healthy diet – rather than a Mediterranean diet – but variety is key.

‘Women were handed the questionnaire after delivery, when the memory of nausea earlier in pregnancy may have been blurred.

‘With nausea during the first trimester and the cost of living rising, it’s important not to stigmatise women who can’t eat a healthy varied diet for financial or other reasons.

‘Birthing people should not feel pressured or feel guilty, stressed or anxious about the food they consume.

‘Speak to your midwife or GP before making changes to your diet.’

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