Preliminary study findings from the University of Washington in Seattle suggest that consuming vitamin C-rich foods may lower the risk of developing dangerously high blood pressure in pregnancy.
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure and swelling in the legs that affects as many as 1 in 10 women pregnant for the first time. If left untreated, preeclampsia can develop into eclampsia, a life-threatening condition in which a woman has convulsive seizures in late pregnancy or during the first week after delivery.
While there is no way to prevent or treat the condition, it seems that consuming foods rich in vitamin C or taking vitamin C supplements during pregnancy might lower the risk.
Preeclampsia is thought to be caused by oxidative stress to blood vessels, which occurs when damaging compounds called free radicals are released during normal body processes. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, meaning it can help fight damage from oxidative stress.
The researchers surveyed 109 women with preeclampsia and 259 healthy women about their diet before and during pregnancy. Women who reported eating less than the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables daily up to a year before delivery were nearly twice as likely to develop preeclampsia.
And women who consumed less than 85 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C daily (one orange has 70 milligrams, ½ raw red pepper has 95 milligrams) were twice as likely to be diagnosed with preeclampsia. The recommended daily intake for vitamin C is 75 mg for non-pregnant women and 85 mg for pregnant women.
Women with the lowest levels of vitamin C in the blood during labor were nearly four times more likely to be diagnosed with preeclampsia, compared with women who had the highest levels, regardless of their age, calorie intake, and whether or not they were overweight before pregnancy.
The researchers said these findings would need to be confirmed before doctors can make any recommendations to pregnant women.
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