Got Milk? Calcium May Prevent Hypertension in Pregnancy

by Karen Barrow

Researchers have discovered a simple solution for a potentially dangerous problem for expectant mothers. Moms-to-be who are at risk for, or have, high blood pressure during their pregnancy may be able to prevent serious medical problems simply by boosting their calcium intake.

Gestational hypertension, or high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy, affects as many as 10 percent of all pregnancies in the United States. This condition can threaten the life of the mother and cause serious complications for the child, including preterm birth, low birth weight and even stillbirth. It is estimated that over 40,000 women world-wide will die from the complications of gestational hypertension this year.

It seems, however, that a simple change in diet may lower a woman.s risk of hypertension by as much as 67 percent. For poorer nations, especially where dairy products are rare, calcium supplements may be a simple and cheap way to prevent gestational hypertension.

"The greatest reduction in risk was for women at high risk and those with low baseline dietary calcium intake," wrote Dr. G.J. Hofmeyr, lead study author in The Cochrane Library.

For the study, Hofmeyr and colleagues reviewed 12 previous studies that included thousands of women from all over the world. In these studies, researchers gave those women with gestational hypertension calcium supplements of varying doses.

Not surprisingly, the additional calcium seemed to help most of those women who already had a low-calcium intake, but a slight reduction in hypertension risk was even apparent in women who ate an adequate amount of calcium.

Hofmeyr suggests that more research needs to be done to confirm the benefit of calcium supplementation for pregnant women and also to establish an appropriate dosage, but this treatment may be a safe, simple solution to a deadly problem.

"It is relatively cheap and readily available," he wrote. "Also, it is likely to be safe for the mother and the child."

Karen Barrow is a copyeditor/writer. She has written for Healthology, the New York Sun, Science World, Super Science and The Jewish Week. She obtained a master's degree in biomedical journalism from New York University and a bachelor's degree in biology from Cornell University.

Copyright © Karen Barrow. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.