In a new study evaluating the Mediterranean diet and adverse pregnancy outcomes, investigators from the Schmidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai found that women who conceived while following an anti-inflammatory diet had a significantly lower risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy.
The study, published today in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Openalso evaluated the association between the Mediterranean diet and other adverse pregnancy outcomes, including gestational diabetes and hypertension, preterm birth, small-for-gestational-age delivery, and stillbirth.
“This multicenter, population-based study demonstrates that a healthy eating pattern is associated with a lower risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, most excitingly a 28% lower risk for preeclampsia,” said Natalie Bello, MD, MPH, senior and corresponding author at the Schmidt Heart Institute. Study and Director of Blood Pressure Research. “Importantly, this association between the Mediterranean diet and lower risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes was observed in a geographically, racially, and ethnically diverse population.”
Bello also noted that the researchers found that the association was strongest among women age 35 and older, who are traditionally considered advanced maternal age.
Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure condition that develops during pregnancy and puts pressure on the mother’s heart. If left untreated, this condition can lead to serious complications such as poor kidney and liver function and decreased blood supply to the fetus.
In addition to preeclampsia, the risk of gestational diabetes is also reduced in women who follow a heart-healthy diet more closely.
The study was part of the Nulliparous Pregnancy Outcomes Study: Monitoring Mothers-to-be, which enrolled 10,038 women between 2010-2013. Enlisted women included 7,798 JAMA Network Open study.
Women who were pregnant with their first child were asked to complete a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire at their first study visit, which occurred during the first trimester.
The questionnaire focused on the women’s eating habits in the three months prior to their visit and asked participants to report their usual food and drink intake. Individuals’ responses were categorized into nine components of the Mediterranean diet — vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish, monounsaturated to saturated fat ratio, red and processed meat, and alcohol — to calculate a Mediterranean diet score.
The data was compiled, analyzed and studied by the researchers and showed:
- Of the 7,798 women enrolled, 10% were 35 years of age or older, 11% were non-Hispanic black, 17% were Hispanic, and 4% were Asian.
- 20% of enrollees were obese at the start of their participation.
- A high Mediterranean diet score was associated with a 21% lower likelihood of any adverse pregnancy outcome, as well as a 28% and 37% lower risk of developing preeclampsia/eclampsia and gestational diabetes.
“We also looked at individual components of the Mediterranean diet and found that higher intakes of vegetables, legumes and fish were associated with a lower associated risk of an adverse pregnancy outcome,” Bello said.
Christine Albert, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Cardiology, who was not involved in the study, said that taken together, these findings uniquely demonstrate that among women in the United States, adopting a Mediterranean diet pattern may represent an important lifestyle approach. Prevention of adverse pregnancy outcomes, especially in women of advanced maternal age.
Previously, only three observational studies—each with a small number of participants—investigated the association of adherence to this healthy dietary pattern around the time of pregnancy and the risk of developing preeclampsia.
“These findings add to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that a Mediterranean-style diet can play an important role in preserving women’s health throughout life, including during pregnancy,” Albert said.
Bello says longer-term studies are needed to evaluate whether promoting a Mediterranean-style diet during pregnancy and throughout pregnancy can prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes and reduce future cardiovascular risk.