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Chronic hypoxia in pregnancy linked to increased risk of heart disease in offspring

last modified Jan 31, 2019 08:54 AM

Professor Dino Giussani and colleagues have shown in a study published in PLoS Biology that adult offspring from pregnancies complicated by abnormally low oxygen levels (chronic hypoxia) have increased risk of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure and stiffer blood vessels.

Chronic hypoxia in the developing baby within the womb is one of the most common outcomes of complicated pregnancy in humans. It results from problems within the placenta that may be due to e.g. preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or maternal smoking.

The study used pregnant sheep to show that maternal treatment with the vitamin C during a complicated pregnancy could protect the adult offspring from developing hypertension and heart disease. The work therefore provides evidence of prenatal influence on the risk of heart disease in the offspring and also shows the potential to protect against it.

Vitamin C is a comparatively weak antioxidant, and while the Cambridge study provides a proof-of-principle, future work will focus on identifying alternative antioxidant therapies that could prove more effective in human clinical practice.

Our discoveries emphasise that when considering strategies to reduce the overall burden of heart disease, much greater attention to prevention rather than treatment is required,” adds Professor Giussani. “Treatment should start as early as possible during development, rather than waiting until adulthood when the disease process has become irreversible.”

Professor Giussani stresses that it is too soon to consider vitamin C as a potential supplement for mothers. Any mothers concerned about their baby’s development in the womb should speak to their doctor before changing their diet or using supplements.

The work draws attention to a new way of thinking about heart disease with a much longer-term perspective, focusing on prevention rather than treatment.

This news item is a short version of the story published on the University's website for research news.

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