Prioritize These Nutrients Before Conception to Avoid Dangerous Pregnancy Outcomes

Eating a healthy diet rich in zinc and calcium in the months leading up to conception may help reduce your risks of hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, new research says.

Experts have long focused on the importance of eating a healthy diet during pregnancy to prevent negative health outcomes, but new research suggests that what an individual eats before conception may be just as important.

The preliminary study, conducted by the American Society for Nutrition, found that individuals who consumed higher levels of zinc and calcium — two essential minerals — in the three months leading up to conception were much less likely to face hypertensive disorders during pregnancy compared to those who had lower intakes of these nutrients.

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This includes mineral intake from both diet and supplements.

Hypertension, also called high blood pressure, is extremely common during pregnancy and can lead to more serious disorders such as preeclampsia — a blood pressure disorder that is the leading cause of pregnancy-related mortality in the United States. Significantly, the incidence of preeclampsia has doubled in the past decade.

As a result, physicians have been recommending dietary changes during pregnancy as a form of prevention, but the new findings suggest diet before conception can also make a significant impact.

“The health of women during the preconception period is strongly linked to the pregnancy outcome,” said Liping Lu, M.D., Ph.D., who conducted the research as a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University and is now an assistant professor at Ball State University, in a news release. “Adequate nutrient or mineral stores in the body prior to conception can ensure optimal nutrient status for conception and support the early stages of fetal growth and development.”

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend that women of childbearing age consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 8 milligrams of zinc daily. Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products, tofu, canned fish, as well as some fruits, nuts, and whole grains. Sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, legumes, cashews, and oats.

The study

Researchers conducted two studies to obtain their results, using data from more than 7,700 pregnant women across the U.S. through the Nulliparous Pregnancy Outcomes Study: Monitoring Mothers-To-Be, for which the women provided information about their health and diet.

The first study looked at calcium intake before conception and its association with rates of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. It found that individuals in the highest quintile for preconception calcium intake were 24% less likely to experience hypertensive disorders during pregnancy compared with those in the lowest quintile.

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The second study looked at zinc intake and hypertensive disorders, finding that those with the highest preconception zinc intakes were 38% less likely to experience hypertensive disorders during pregnancy than those with the lowest zinc intakes.

While the studies are observational and do not prove causation, previous studies have shown that adequate intake of zinc and calcium is associated with a reduced risk of hypertension-related diseases in individuals who aren’t pregnant. Calcium and zinc are also known to play important roles in the metabolic processes that help to maintain the health of blood vessels.

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