Pregnant women could avoid pre-eclampsia by taking dietary supplements, new research suggests.
The dangerous condition affects up to one in 10 pregnancies, with women suffering blurred vision, swelling, headaches and high blood pressure. Its precise cause is not known but problems with blood vessels in the placenta are thought to be to blame.
Pre-eclampsia tends to strike 20 weeks into the pregnancy or later and is a risk to the baby or mother's life in 10% of instances.
A research team from the US and Mexico has looked at how a supplement giving women antioxidant vitamins and an amino acid impacts the risk of pre-eclampsia. Some doctors have suggested the cause is linked to a lack of the amino acid L-arginine which helps keep blood flowing properly. Other experts have said antioxidants could stop it happening.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), split the pregnant women involved into three groups. Some were given a placebo, some were given just vitamins and some got the vitamins plus L-arginine.
Overall, 30.2% of women in a placebo group developed pre-eclampsia, dropping to 22.5% in the antioxidant vitamin-only group, and 12.7% in the L-arginine plus vitamin group.
The results showed that those given L-arginine plus vitamins were significantly less likely to develop pre-eclampsia. But antioxidant vitamins alone did not significantly reduce the risk.
The team also found that L-arginine plus vitamins significantly reduced the risk of premature birth compared with placebo.
The researchers called for more studies but concluded: "We observed a significant reduction in the incidence of pre-eclampsia/eclampsia in pregnant women who consumed bars containing L-arginine plus antioxidant vitamins. The results of this trial support the proposed hypothesis that supplemental L-arginine can reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia."
"Great research! I know the benefits of L-arginine for many things, including heart problems - it really is the miracle molecule. I take it daily and have many health benefits from it" - Jo Tocher, London
"Hope this works, I had pre-eclampsia in all 3 of my pregnancies" - Wendy Fitzgerald, London