Some pregnant women are prone to developing a condition called pre-eclampsia, which involves high blood pressure, kidney impairment and reduced blood flow to the placenta, and which can complicate the pregnancy. Pregnancies complicated by pre-eclampsia are associated with premature delivery and low birth weight. The cause is not clear, but now European researchers have found that women with low levels of the mineral selenium are four times more likely to have pre-eclampsia than women with higher levels.
It's thought that one cause of pre-eclampsia is oxidants that arise from a poorly functioning placenta. Since selenium is an antioxidant, low levels of this trace element could potentially increase the risk of pre-eclampsia.
Researchers measured levels of selenium in toenail clippings from 53 pre-eclamptic patients and in 53 matched pregnant women. Selenium accumulates in nails, which therefore provide a good record of levels over time. Average selenium levels were found to be significantly lower in women with pre-eclampsia than in those without. Moreover, among the pre-eclamptic women, the lower the selenium level the more likely a woman was to deliver prematurely.
Selenium intake has dropped both in the UK and in a number of other European countries over the last 20 to 25 years. The researchers note that just a small increase in selenium levels could confer dramatic benefits.
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