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Pre-eclampsia risk reduction: a nutritional approach

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Pre-eclampsia is a serious and common pregnancy-induced condition which can occur in the second half of pregnancy. Symptoms typically include high blood pressure, sudden swelling, leakage of protein into the urine and rapid weight gain due to fluid retention. 

Although the exact cause of pre-eclampsia remains unknown, it is thought to begin with improperly developed placental blood vessels. There is also compelling evidence that in many cases pre-eclampsia has a genetic basis. Other possible contributing factors for pre-eclampsia include endothelial dysfunction, inflammatory activation and oxidative stress.

Recently, the role of maternal nutrition in the aetiology of pre-eclampsia has gained increased attention. The similarities between pre-eclampsia and atherosclerosis suggest that the actions of dietary lipids, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may be of particular importance. Studies also support the hypothesis that supplementation of antioxidant nutrients such as selenium and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) may be beneficial in reducing oxidative stress in women at risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

Early onset pre-eclampsia has been linked to altered placental DNA methylation. There may be a link between choline as a major methyl donor and dysregulated placental methylation. Recent evidence has associated choline supplementation to a reduction in an anti-angiogenic factor that is elevated in pre-eclampsia. 

Probiotics have also been found to be of benefit to pregnant women. The most recent study looked at 33,000 pregnant Norwegian women over a period of six years. Those that took probiotics in one form or another each day during pregnancy were less likely to develop pre-eclampsia.[10]

In this infographic we take a closer look at the pathophysiology of pre-eclampsia and the role that nutrition and targeted supplementation can play in its prevention and the optimisation of health during pregnancy.


  1. Brennecke S, East C, Moses E, et al. Identification of pre-eclampsia - eclampsia susceptibility gene(s). Women’s Pregnancy Research Centre 2015. Viewed 20 March 2015, https://www.thewomens.org.au/research/research-centres/womens-pregnancy-...
  2. Lim KH, Steinberg G, Ramus RM, et al. Preeclampsia. Medscape 2014. Viewed 18 March 2015, http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1476919-overview#aw2aab6b2
  3. Chen CW, Jaffe IZ, Karumanchi SA. Pre-eclampsia and cardiovascular disease. Cardiovasc Res 2014;101(4):579-586. [Full text]
  4. Preeclampsia. Mayo Clinic 2014. Viewed 19 March 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/preeclampsia/basics/defini...
  5. Weissgerber TL, Wolfe LA, Davies GA. The role of regular physical activity in preeclampsia prevention. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004;36(12):2024-2031. [Abstract]
  6. Karumanchi SA. Pathogenesis of preeclampsia and related disorders. Howard Hughes Medical Institute 2009. Viewed 18 March 2015, http://www.hhmi.org/research/pathogenesis-preeclampsia-and-related-disor...
  7. Palan PR, Shaban DW, Martino T, et al. Lipid-soluble antioxidants and pregnancy: maternal serum levels of coenzyme Q10, alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol in preeclampsia and normal pregnancy. Gynecol Obstet Invest 2004;58(1):8-13. [Abstract]
  8. Rayman MP, Searle E, Kelly L, et al. Effect of selenium on markers of risk of pre-eclampsia in UK pregnant women: a randomised, controlled pilot trial. Br J Nutr 2014;112(1):99-111. [Full text]
  9. Jiang X, Bar HY, Yan J, et al. A higher maternal choline intake among third-trimester pregnant women lowers placental and circulating concentrations of the antiangiogenic factor fms-like tyrosine kinase-1 (sFLT1). FASEB J 2013;27(3):1245-1253. [PDF]
  10. Brantsaeter AL, Myhre R, Haugen M, et al. Intake of probiotic food and risk of preeclampsia in primiparous women: the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiol 2011;174(7):807-815. [Full text]
  11. Kulkarni AV, Mehendale SS, Yadav HR, et al. Reduced placental docosahexaenoic acid levels associated with increased levels of sFlt-1 in preeclampsia. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2011;84(1-2):51-55. [Abstract]


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Melissa Lee
Melissa is a designer turned nutritionist, who has combined the two modalities to create purposeful designs for various health publications and websites. Having initially studied Multimedia Systems Design, she then went on to complete a BHSc in Nutritional Medicine which led to her involvement in the integrative medicine industry and eventually to FX Medicine.