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Health & Pregnancy

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Dietary Supplement May Help Prevent Preeclampsia

Study Shows Fewer Cases of Preeclampsia in Pregnant Women Who Ate Special Food Bars
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 19, 2011 -- An inexpensive dietary supplement appears to help prevent the serious pregnancy complication preeclampsia in high-risk women, according to a new study.

But researchers say the effect in lower-risk pregnancies remains to be determined.

In the study from Mexico, women who ate daily food bars containing the amino acid L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins during pregnancy had a much lower incidence of preeclampsia than women who ate bars containing the antioxidant vitamins alone or bars containing neither supplement.

Most of the women had a history of preeclampsia and all were considered at high risk for the complication. Preeclampsia affects 2% to 8% of pregnant women overall and a much higher percentage of poor women living in developing countries.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, preeclampsia is the cause of one in four childbirth-related deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Checking for Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia, the pregnancy-induced high blood pressure occurring with high levels of protein in the urine, can threaten the life of both a pregnant woman and her baby.

The only cure is delivery. Bed rest is generally recommended for milder forms of preeclampsia if the pregnancy is not near full term.

The amino acid L-arginine is produced by the body and has been shown in some animal and human studies to help maintain healthy blood flow. There is also some evidence that preeclampsia may be linked to a deficiency in L-arginine.

In the new study, published May 19 in BMJ Online First, a team of investigators in Mexico and the U.S. recruited close to 700 pregnant women with a previous pregnancy complicated by preeclampsia (95%) or a close relative who had the disorder.

From around the 20th week of pregnancy until the 32nd week the women were asked to eat two specially formulated food bars every day.

About one-third of the women ate bars containing L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins, one-third ate bars containing the vitamins alone, and the rest ate bars with neither the amino acid nor the vitamins. All the bars had the same packaging.

The average woman ended up eating just one of the two recommended bars each day; 125 women stopped eating the bars entirely at some point during the study.

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