SCI-TECH & AGRI

High-fibre diet may promote healthy pregnancy: study

Consuming a healthy diet rich in fibre during pregnancy may promote the wellbeing of both the mother and child, and reduce the risk of preeclampsia, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. Plant-based fibre is broken down in the gut by bacteria into factors that influence the immune system, said researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia.

Gut microbiome

The researchers investigated the role of these metabolic products of gut bacteria during pregnancy. They noted the simple recommendation to ‘eat real food, mostly plants, and not too much’ might be the most effective primary prevention strategy for some of the most serious conditions of our time. “The mother’s gut bacteria and diet appear to be crucial to promoting a healthy pregnancy,” said Professor Ralph Nanan, from the University of Sydney.

The study found that in humans, reduced levels of acetate, which is mainly produced by fibre fermentation in the gut, is associated with the common and serious pregnancy-related condition preeclampsia. Preeclampsia occurs in up to 10 per cent of pregnancies and is characterised by high blood pressure, protein in the urine and severe swelling in the mother.

Immunity

It also interferes with the child’s immune development whilst in the womb, with some evidence suggesting a link to higher rates of allergies and autoimmune disease later in life. The study found that preeclampsia affected the development of an important foetal immune organ, the thymus, which sits just behind the breastbone.

These results showed that promoting specific metabolic products of gut bacteria during pregnancy might be an effective way to maintain a healthy pregnancy and to prevent allergies and autoimmune conditions later in life. They may also, in part, explain the rapid increase of allergies, autoimmune conditions as Western diets are increasingly dominated by highly processed foods, which are very low in fibre.

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