Discovery Links Pre-Eclampsia to Diet

Women with the condition pre-eclampsia have been found with red blood cells containing unusually high levels of a compound found in unpasteurized food, according to research published in the journal Reproductive Sciences. The findings are important because they hint at the possibility of this compound, known as "ergothioneine", being an indicator of pre-eclampsia. Further down the line, researchers hope the compound will help them understand the currently unknown cause of the condition.

For the study, researchers at the University of Leeds, UK took blood samples from a group of thirty-seven pregnant women and compared the red blood cells of pregnant women with pre-eclampsia and those with no symptoms. Scientists found a significantly higher concentration of ergothioneine, a compound made by fungi, in the red blood cells of pre-eclampsia women.

Ergothioneine is known to be made by micro-organisms commonly found in foods such as unpasteurized dairy products. Since we cannot synthesize ergothioneine, it finds its way into our bodies exclusively through diet. Leeds University chemist, Dr. Julie Fisher, claims “These results suggest that a higher level of ergothioneine is an indicator of pre-eclampsia.”

However, Dr. Fisher recommends that pregnant women continue to eat fungi or foods such as unpasteurized dairy products, since studies have highlighted the benefits of ergothioneine. She states, “Ergothionine is known as an antioxidant and antioxidants have been proposed to be helpful in reducing the risk of preeclampsia. It is therefore interesting that we have found it to be in excess for women with the condition.”

For women with pre-eclampsia, symptoms include high blood pressure, protein in urine and fluid retention and affects almost 10% of pregnancies after 20 weeks. If left untreated, the condition can cause a variety of problems such as child growth restriction and even fetal and maternal mortality. The condition has no known cause.


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