• Study finds healthy diet can lower the risk of blood pressure in women with history of pregnancy related diabetes
  • Diets containing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low red meat and processed meat portions are advised
  • Previously the same diets have shown to lower the risk of development of type-2 diabetes in women with history of gestational diabetes

A latest study from Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), under National Institutes of Health in United States, has found that the risk of high blood pressure among women with gestational or pregnancy related diabetes can be reduced considerably if these women stick to healthy diets after pregnancy for years.

Dr Cuilin Zhang, MD, PhD, a senior investigator in the Epidemiology Branch of the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at NICHD, said, “Our study suggests that women who have had gestational diabetes may indeed benefit from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in red and processed meats.”

Pregnancy diabetes can raise the risk of developing high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes in women, but healthy diet after pregnancy can reduce the risk again according to the study.

The results showed that after adjusting for family history, smoking, and other risk factors for increased high blood pressure, the women who adopted a healthy diet reduced their risk of developing hypertension by 20 percent in comparison to the women who did not adhere to a healthy and balanced diet.

The study was published in the journal Hypertension and the funding for the study was provided by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and National Cancer Institute, NIH.

For the study, the researchers followed 3,818 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II, over the course of 22 years from 1989 to 2011, with a history of gestational diabetes mellitus. Nurses’ Health Study II is a part of ongoing Diabetes and Women’s Health Study. 1,069 women developed high blood pressure during the course of the study.

The data for hypertension incidence was collected in form of self-administered questionnaires that were double checked with previous medical record. The data was updated every four years when participants answered questions on their eating habits.

The responses were categorized by three health dietary approaches, when applicable. All three diets — the Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010, the Alternative Mediterranean Diet, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) — are widely studied and suggests the usage of legumes, nuts, fish, and whole grains. They also advise the limited consumption of salt, added sugar, and processed and red meat.

The results overall showed a decreased risk of developing high blood pressure in women with history of pregnancy related diabetes.

In a previous study from NIH, Dr Zhang has also found that women who adhered closely to the above mentioned diets lowered their risk of developing type-2 diabetes compared to women who followed a diet least similar to them.

Dr Zhang also said that fiber from food such as legumes and whole grains can help the way body processes sugar and handles information. Fruits and vegetables rich in potassium and vitamin K, antioxidants, and ascorbic acid could also help heart and blood vessels. She further added that a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure in everyone and not just in the women who have had pregnancy related diabetes.

Dr Cheryl Bushnell from North Carolina, who was not part of the study, also commented that these results are not surprising and the diet with fruits, vegetables, fresh and non-processed food is rich with potassium and have low sodium concentrations, which can help lower blood pressure. Dr Bushnell is currently working at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

This study is first of its kind that shows that adopting a healthy and balanced diet can reduce the risk of high blood pressure in women who have had gestational diabetes. Previously healthy diet has been associated with lowering the risk of high blood pressure in general populations.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 70 million adults (29 percent) have high blood pressure in United States. Nearly the same number (1 out of 3) has pre-hypertension which means they have raised blood pressure, just not in the range of high blood pressure.

High blood pressure can put a person at a high risk for stroke (which is the leading cause of deaths in America) and heart disease.

Another CDC analysis reports (2014) that the overall prevalence of gestational diabetes can be as high as 9.2 percent, in which nearly five percent of women (nearly 200,000) can develop gestational diabetes despite not having diabetes before pregnancy, in United States.

No cause for gestational diabetes has been discovered as of yet but scientists theorize that hormones from placenta can block the action of insulin in a women’s body causing insulin resistance. Sugar levels often go back to lower concentrations after pregnancy in women.

Gestational or pregnancy diabetes can then increase blood sugar levels in the mother, which can lead to an increased risk of premature labor and a baby to be of a larger than average size.