High blood pressure is the most common medical condition during pregnancy, complicating two to three percent of all pregnancies. It can pose many risks, such as a decrease in blood flow to the placenta or premature delivery. The exact cause of high blood pressure during pregnancy is undetermined, but one theory is that some women are genetically predisposed to high blood pressure, and pregnancy causes it. Older maternal age, obesity and diabetes can also play a role. This can be dangerous not only for the mother, but also for her child. Research shows that higher folate levels during pregnancy could be beneficial for offspring health.
Folic Acid and Hypertension in Childhood
Research published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that babies born to mothers with cardiometabolic risk factors were less likely to develop hypertension if their mothers had higher levels of folate during pregnancy. Cardiometabolic diseases are clinical pictures that affect the cardiovascular system and/or metabolic processes. People with higher blood pressure are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular, metabolic, and kidney diseases, as well as strokes. Research has also shown that maternal cardiometabolic risk factors during pregnancy — including hypertension, diabetes and obesity — are correlated with higher offspring blood pressure.
Because controlling hypertension and cardiovascular disease in adults is difficult and costly, identifying early childhood factors for preventing hypertension can be an important and cost-effective public health strategy. There is growing evidence that maternal nutrition during pregnancy influences offspring cardiometabolic health through its effects on the fetal intrauterine environment. Folate, which is involved in nucleic acid synthesis, gene expression and cell growth, is particularly important.
In young adults, higher folic acid intake has been associated with a lower incidence of high blood pressure later in life. However, the role of maternal folate levels alone or in combination with maternal cardiometabolic risk factors on infant blood pressure has not been investigated in a prospective birth cohort.
As part of their study, the researchers analyzed data from a prospective urban birth cohort in the United States. The study results show that higher maternal folic acid levels lower the risk of hypertension in the offspring. Among children born to mothers with any of the cardiometabolic risk factors, those whose mothers had folic acid levels above the median were 40% less likely to develop childhood hypertension.
The researchers emphasize that these results point to the possibility that early risk assessment and intervention before conception and during pregnancy may lead to new ways to prevent hypertension and its consequences across the lifespan and generations.
High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy and the Risk of Stroke
High blood pressure during pregnancy can dramatically increase a woman’s lifetime risk of stroke, according to a study presented at the Canadian Stroke Congress. The researchers found that women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy were at a higher risk of stroke, particularly if they had preeclampsia, a more severe form of high blood pressure. The increased risk of stroke could be up to 40 percent.
Nine studies looked specifically at hypertension (high blood pressure) during pregnancy and its association with future risk of stroke. Hypertension is the most important risk factor for stroke. The studies followed women between one and 32 years of age after pregnancy and found consistent evidence that those with a history of high blood pressure in pregnancy were more likely to have a stroke later in life. Women are closely monitored for changes in blood pressure throughout pregnancy, but there are currently no specific recommendations for stroke screening or preventive measures after childbirth.
According to the experts, these women should be monitored more closely for a return of high blood pressure, as well as for cholesterol, diabetes or other markers of increased risk of stroke. Although blood pressure can level off after childbirth, it is important for these women to monitor their blood pressure throughout their lives to reduce their risk of having a stroke in the future.
How High Blood Pressure in the Mother Affects the Child’s Brain
Research also suggests that a mother’s high blood pressure during pregnancy can affect the child’s ability to think well into old age. High blood pressure and related conditions like preeclampsia complicate about 10 percent of all pregnancies and can affect a baby’s environment in the womb.
The study, published in the online edition of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that even the decline in thinking skills with old age may stem from the prenatal period, when most of the development of brain structure and function takes place.
The researchers examined medical records of maternal blood pressure during pregnancy from 398 men born between 1934 and 1944. Men’s thinking ability was assessed at age 20 and then again at an average age of 69. Tests measured language skills, mathematical reasoning, and visual and spatial relationships.
The study found that men whose mothers had high blood pressure during pregnancy scored 4.36 points lower on a reasoning ability test at age 69 than men whose mothers did not have high blood pressure. The group also scored lower at age 20 and saw a greater decline in their scores over the decades than those whose mothers did not have problems with blood pressure. The finding was strongest in the area of mathematical reasoning.
Lower Blood Pressure Naturally During Pregnancy
In addition to medication, natural measures can also help to regulate blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet is a good way. Avoid saturated fats, sugar and salt, and choose healthy foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish instead. Stress reduction can also help to normalize your blood pressure. Obesity is also a risk factor. Talk to your doctor about what weight is ideal for you. It is also important to exercise regularly during pregnancy. Moderate exercise such as cycling, swimming, walking and yoga are particularly recommended. According to research, physical activity improves endothelial cell function, reduces oxidative stress and lowers the risk of preeclampsia.