Plant-based Diet And Pre-eclampsia-What Does Science Say?
Vegetarian and vegan diets are emerging worldwide due to the evidence that plant-based dietary patterns reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Pregnancy is a critical window of opportunity to provide dietary habits that are beneficial for fetal health.
However, pregnancy does induce lots of changes in the body of the women. It is also an exclusive condition in which the requirements of energy and micronutrient intake increase to maintain the supply of essential nutrients for fetal development. Not all pregnancies end with a happy mother and healthy baby. Some pregnancies take a drastic turn over their course and may give rise to serious complications, one such complication is preeclampsia, which if left untreated, may have adverse effects on the mother and the child.
What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is characterized by a rise in blood pressure, swelling of the body, retention of salt and water, and loss of proteins in urine. If not treated at the initial stage this can progress rapidly, causing liver and kidney damage, and ultimately resulting in convulsions posing a threat to the life of the mother and the baby.
How does a plant-based diet help to prevent pre-eclampsia?
In 1987, a group of researchers examined maternity care records of 775 vegan women in a community in Tennessee and found that their diets did not affect birth weight. Their risk of pre-eclampsia was <2% than that of the non-vegetarian population. Physicians noted, "It is possible that a vegan diet could alleviate most, if not all, of the signs and symptoms of pre-eclampsia." These women had prenatal care, took vitamin B12 supplements, and had diets of soy foods, other legumes, grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits.
Foods to eat for a healthy pregnancy
Previous studies have indicated that dietary patterns during pregnancy have a varied effect on maternal health and pregnancy outcomes such as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP), gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), preterm birth, and low birth weight. For HDP, intake of vegetables, legumes, nuts, tofu, rice, pasta, rye bread, fish, milk, green leafy vegetables, and pulses/beans was associated with a lower odds of pre-eclampsia/eclampsia, while the consumption of meat and potatoes, processed meat, sweet drinks, and salty snacks increased the likelihood of preeclampsia.
The risk of pregnancy complications like pre-eclampsia and low birth weight has been linked with maternal oxidative stress during pregnancy. Evidence indicates that oxidative stress during pregnancy could be reduced by antioxidant compounds from fruit and vegetables.
Although more high-quality evidence is needed, balanced plant-based diets rich in fibers and low in fats are considered to be protective against poor pregnancy outcomes such as pre-eclampsia and preterm delivery. However, these protective effects disappear if any nutrient deficiencies occur. Moreover, unbalanced dietary patterns with a lack of macro-and micro-nutrients such as proteins, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, DHA, and iron pose more risk of fetal impairment (low BW, neurological disabilities, and fetal malformations).
Hence, the bottom line is, a plant-based diet may protect the pregnant woman to some extent against pre-eclampsia, however, eating a well-balanced diet and enhancing it with nutrients supplements is the ultimate key for preventing unfavorable outcomes.
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- Carter JP, Furman T, Hutcheson HR. Preeclampsia and reproductive performance in a community of vegans. South Med J. 1987;80(6):692-7. DOI 10.1097/00007611-198706000-00007.
- Tilahun Kibret, Catherine Chojenta,Ellie Gresham Teketo K Tegegne. Maternal dietary patterns and risk of adverse pregnancy (hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and gestational diabetes mellitus) and birth (preterm birth and low birth weight) outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis:Public Health Nutrition: 22(3), 506-520.