THURSDAY, July 17, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Eating more fiber during the first trimester of pregnancy seems to reduce the risk of developing preeclampsia, a potentially fatal condition characterized by elevated blood pressure.
The finding appears to be another good reason for pregnant women to maintain good fiber intake, one expert said.
"There's not really a downside to taking more fiber," noted Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Many women suffer from constipation in pregnancy, and it can only help that. If you can increase your fiber anyway for constipation, it may also decrease preeclampsia."
There are other benefits to increasing fiber intake, including lowering blood pressure.
According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, some 5 percent to 8 percent of women experience the dangerous condition during pregnancy. The only way to end preeclampsia is to deliver the baby -- obviously a more reasonable strategy the further along a pregnancy is.
Risk factors for the condition include obesity, a family history of type 2 diabetes and/or hypertension, depression, anxiety, diets low in fruits and vegetables, and low levels of physical activity.
The findings, published July 17 in the online edition of the American Journal of Hypertension, seem to corroborate previous findings on the subject from somewhat smaller studies.
For this study, more than 1,500 pregnant women in Washington State filled out a 121-item questionnaire listing the types of food they ate, both before they conceived and during the early weeks of their pregnancy.
Women who consumed 21.2 grams a day or more of fiber were 72 percent less likely to develop preeclampsia compared with women who ate less than 11.9 grams a day, the researchers found
Triglyceride concentrations were lower and levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol concentrations higher in women consuming more fiber, the study noted.
It wasn't clear if the authors adjusted for other dietary factors and weight.
The authors, from the Swedish Medical Center and the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Seattle, noted that adding an extra 5 grams of fiber a day was associated with a 14 percent reduction in the risk of developing preeclampsia. Consuming two slices of whole-grain bread daily would be the equivalent to adding 5 grams of fiber a day, they said.
Find out more on this topic at the Preeclampsia Foundation.