Simple Intervention may Reduce Incidence of Dangerous Pregnancy Condition

Food bars containing a semi-essential amino acid and antioxidant vitamins may offer a simple intervention that could reduce the incidence of preeclampsia, a condition that can occur during pregnancy that can affect both mother and unborn infant, according to a new study authored by an international team published in the online today in the British Journal of Medicine.

May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month, an effort to bring national attention to a disease considered to be one of the most significant health problems in pregnancy and a leading cause worldwide of both premature delivery and of sickness and death of the mother and baby. Typically diagnosed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, preeclampsia can be fatal for mother and infant if left untreated and once developed the only cure is delivery. Currently, there is no way to predict which women will develop the condition.

The team, led by Felipe Vadillo-Ortega, M.D., and researchers at the School of Medicine from National Autonomous University of Mexico, included Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, and colleagues at the Instituto Nacional de Perinatologia Isidro Espinosa de los Reyes, Mexico; Universidad Autonoma de Sinaloa, Mexico; Instituto de Investigaciones Biomedicas, UNAM, Mexico; Washington University in St. Louis; and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Through a randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled clinical study, the team found that pregnant women at risk for developing preeclampsia who consumed food bars containing the amino acid L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins experienced a reduced incidence of preeclampsia.

“This study describes the first successful intervention resulting in prevention of preeclampsia providing a simple and inexpensive measure with potential use in public health,” said Vadillo-Ortega, a former trainee of Strauss’.

Previous studies have reported a deficiency of arginine during pregnancy. Arginine is used to support the widening of blood vessels that occurs during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is characterized by high-blood pressure and an excess of protein in the urine.

“L-arginine is the substrate for synthesis of nitric oxide, a compound with antihypertensive effects. Providing an extra amount of L-arginine in the diet of pregnant women at high risk for developing preeclampsia resulted in a protective effect against this disease,” he said. 

The team examined 672 women who had a previous pregnancy complicated by preeclampsia, or had a first degree relative with the condition in Mexico City. From week 14 to week 32 of pregnancy, the women either received food bars containing L-arginine plus antioxidant vitamins, antioxidant vitamins alone, or a placebo.

“Nutritional interventions for the prevention of preeclampsia have been sought for some time. The medical food used in our study appears to offer substantial benefit for women at high risk of preeclampsia, demonstrating that nutritional supplementation is a viable and safe approach to prevention of a disease that is a major cause of maternal and neonatal  mortality,” said Strauss, who began work on this concept 10 years ago.

“This approach can be used to address a global health problem, and we had that in mind in conducting the research, which would not have been possible without an initial grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” added Strauss, who is a member of the Discovery Expert Group of the Foundation.

According to Strauss and Vadillo-Ortega, the team will conduct further studies to determine whether these results are due to L-arginine alone, or a combination of L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins.

This work was supported by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and Consejo Nacional de Ciencia Y Technología (CONACYT).

Sathya Achia Abraham
VCU Communications and Public Relations
(804) 827-0890
[email protected]