Mamas on Bedrest: L-Arginine and Antioxidants May Lower the Incidence of Pre-Eclampsia

May 30th, 2011

Researchers in Mexico found that giving high risk pregnant women at risk for developing pre-eclampsia  L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins helps prevent preeclampsia.

L-arginine is an amino acid needed in order for the body to make nitric oxide, a vasodilator, which helps relax smooth muscle and in turn lower blood pressure. People with low levels of L-arginine are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure and in pregnant women, the high blood pressure progressing to pre-eclampsia.

Felipe Vadillo-Ortega, from the Department of Experimental Medicine, School of Medicine, Universidad Nacional, Autonoma de Mexico, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico, and colleagues found women at high risk for pre-eclampsia given supplement bars containing the amino acid L-arginine as well as antioxidant vitamins had a reduced risk of developing pre-eclampsia compared to women who took antioxidant supplements alone or no supplements whatsoever.

Of the 672 women studied, 228 received with food bars containing L-arginine plus antioxidant vitamins, 222 received antioxidant vitamins alone and 222 received placebo. Preeclampsia developed in 30.2% of the placebo group (Those who got no supplements) , 22.5% of the vitamin-only group, and 12.7% in the L-arginine plus vitamin group. There was also a non-statistically significant benefit for antioxidant vitamins alone vs placebo.  It must be noted that L-arginine and antioxidants do not prevent pre-eclampsia from occuring. In simple terms, L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins can’t stop pre-eclampsia from developing, but in women at risk for this complicated and potentially deadly disorder, taking the supplement bars and vitamins seems to reduce their risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

This is potentially exciting news. Pre-eclampsia affects an  estimated 2% to 6% in healthy, nulliparous (first time pregnant) American women Among all cases of the preeclampsia, 10% occur in pregnancies of less than 34 weeks’ gestation. The global incidence of pre-eclampsia has been estimated at 5-14% of all pregnancies. While much more information is needed to be able to draw definitive conclusions and to then make recommendations for implementation, the very idea that there may be a way to reduce the incidence of pre-eclampsia amongst women at risk is exciting. What’s more, the treatment is simply eating supplement bars and taking vitamins. No invasive procedures, no hard core medications.

But it’s not all rosy. To date, there is no data that tells the effectiveness of L-arginine alone on pre-eclampsia. We know that antioxidant vitamins alone offer some  benefit, but the benefit was not shown to be statistically significant. There is no data on the potential side effects of L-argninine. There hasn’t been a dosage established that produced optimum effect and no dosages that are ineffective or potentially harmful. Since this is the first (or one of few) studies to look at the effect of dietary supplements on pre-eclampsia, much more research needs to be done to determine if this was a “fluke”, if the data can be reproduced and if the study can be successfully carried out in other areas of the world.

So much to evaluate and determine, but for this moment, I am giddy at the fact that nutritional bars may hold a key to helping lower the incidence of pre-eclampsia.

This study abstract was published in the May 19, 2011 on line British Medical Journal. BMJ. 2011;342:d2777, d2901

A summary was presented on MedScape.

One response to “Mamas on Bedrest: L-Arginine and Antioxidants May Lower the Incidence of Pre-Eclampsia”

  1. Becky Larson says:

    When I was pregnant I had very high blood pressure. My doctor recommended using L-arginine and I had no idea what that was. I never heard of it until he mentioned it to me. I can’t tell you how much that helped me! I felt much better and relaxed after I took it. If you are considering using L-arginine I highly recommend using it.

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