NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Pregnant women who increase their fiber intake by 5 grams a day — the equivalent of 2 slices of whole grain bread — may reduce their risk of developing preeclampsia by about 14 percent, researchers report.

Preeclampsia is a serious and potentially fatal complication of pregnancy, characterized by high blood pressure, rapid weight gain, and protein in the urine after 20 weeks gestation. Dramatic changes in blood lipids (fats) may precede the condition.

However, Dr. Chunfang Qiu, at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, and colleagues, found high fiber intake before and during early pregnancy markedly lessened preeclampsia risk among 1538 women followed through pregnancy.

Qiu and colleagues collected data on fiber intake over a 3 month period before and during early pregnancy among 1538 women with uncomplicated pregnancies. Sixty-four of them developed preeclampsia.

Women who reported eating at least 21.2 grams of total fiber a day, compared with those eating less than 11.9 grams daily, were 67 percent less likely to develop preeclampsia, the investigators report in the American Journal of Hypertension.

They calculate that every 5-gram increase in daily fiber intake led to a 14 percent reduction in preeclampsia risk.

This association remained after they allowed for other factors potentially linked with preeclampsia risk including total energy intake, maternal age, race/ethnicity, number of pregnancies, and pre-pregnancy body weight.

Moreover, women with the highest fiber intake had triglycerides nearly 12 points lower and high-density lipoproteins (‘good’ cholesterol) more than 2.6 points higher than women with the lowest daily fiber intake.

Taken together, these results suggest important health benefits from increased fiber intake before and during early pregnancy, Qiu and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: American Journal of Hypertension, August 2008