Low blood levels of the B vitamin folate may explain why preeclampsia, a type of high blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy, is more common in black women than in white women. This may relate to the fact that as folate levels fall there is a rise in another compound, homocysteine, which is linked to blood vessel stiffness.
The investigators, from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, assessed 26 black women and 34 white women with preeclampsia during labour and compared them with 52 blacks and 51 whites with uncomplicated pregnancies.
Folate levels were significantly lower in blacks than whites. Moreover, in black women with preeclampsia, levels of homocysteine increased as folate levels fell. In both races, increased levels of homocysteine were tied to a heightened risk of preeclampsia.
Further studies are needed to identify other factors that may contribute to the higher risk of preeclampsia seen in black women.
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