Most women try to avoid bacteria while expecting. However, a new study shows that consuming probiotics, or “friendly bacteria,” during pregnancy may lower the risk of the pre-eclampsia and pre-term birth.
Preeclampsia affects two to eight percent of pregnancies worldwide, with an estimated 3.4% women impacted in the United States. Preeclampsia, formerly called toxemia, is a condition of pregnancy that is marked by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Women with preeclampsia sometimes experience swelling, dizziness, and nausea. Untreated, it can lead to eclampsia, a more severe form of the disease.
A new study published in the journal BMJ Open has found that taking probiotics during pregnancy may help to lower the risks of preeclampsia and premature birth. However, the timing of probiotic intake may make a difference, the researchers found.
Modern research is illustrating that a mother’s diet has a significant influence on pregnancy outcomes. Studies have linked maternal intake to gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, depression, childhood asthma, and even pre-term birth.
Scientists have recently discovered the importance of probiotics, or live “healthy” bacteria, on human health. It has been shown that women who take oral probiotics can change the bacterial composition of the vaginal tract. Recent studies have illustrated the link between altered vaginal bacteria and premature birth.
For this study, researchers utilized data from over 37,000 pregnancies in Norway. As part of the study, pregnant mothers provided information on their dietary intake and medical history, including specific questions related to their consumption of two different kinds of probiotic-rich milk. Both products, which contained the Lactobacillus bacterium, were the only probiotic food items available in Norwegian stores at the time of the study.
Approximately 25% of the women reported consuming probiotic milk before their pregnancy, while a third of the women drank these products while pregnant. Women who consumed the probiotics were generally older, of higher socioeconomic status, and more educated.
Of the women included in the study, 5%, or 1851 women, were diagnosed with preeclampsia. The study found that probiotic intake late in pregnancy was associated with a 20% lower risk of preeclampsia compared to the women who did not consume probiotics. The researchers were unable to find any association between probiotic intake before pregnancy or early in pregnancy and preeclampsia risk.
Further, probiotic intake in pregnancy was associated with a lower risk of preterm birth, with an 11 percent lower risk when probiotics were taken early in pregnancy and a 27 percent lower risk for preterm delivery when consumed late in pregnancy.
The study authors did not examine the reasons behind the lowered risks of preeclampsia and preterm birth, but they hypothesize that probiotic intake may contribute to reduced inflammation in the body.