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Calcium Lowers Risk of Pregnancy Complication

Healthnotes Newswire (August 30, 2007)—Women may lower their risk of developing a serious pregnancy-related complication called preeclampsia by taking calcium supplements.

Preeclampsia, a condition that can develop during the second half of pregnancy, is characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling of the extremities that doesn’t go away. Regular prenatal care can help detect the condition so that it may be treated early to avoid adverse effects on mother and baby.

Women who have had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy and those whose mother or sisters had preeclampsia are more likely to develop the condition, as are teens, women over 40, women with preexisting high blood pressure, women pregnant with their first baby, and expectant mothers of multiples. While the exact cause of preeclampsia is poorly understood, evidence points to dietary factors as a key contributor. Women whose diets are high in calcium are much less likely to develop it.

A review of 12 studies on the effects of calcium supplementation during pregnancy, which focused on the risk of developing preeclampsia and other high blood pressure–related complications, was published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

At the beginning of the studies, about one-third of the women obtained the recommended daily allowance of calcium from their diets and most of them were at low risk for developing preeclampsia. The studies compared daily doses of 1,500 mg to 2,000 mg of supplemental calcium with a placebo.

Women who took calcium supplements had a 30% lower risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy compared with those who took a placebo. The authors noted that supplementing with at least 1,000 mg of calcium appears to cut the risk in half. “The greatest reduction in risk appears to be for women at high risk and for those with low baseline dietary calcium intake,” they said. Calcium supplementation also lowered the risk of maternal death or severe complications by 20%, and decreased the risk of preterm birth by 55% for women at high risk.

“The findings of this review highlight the importance of diet during pregnancy,” said Michelle Palmer, a certified nurse midwife specializing in home birth in Rhode Island. “Many women already know about the value of folic acid and iron intake during pregnancy, but the protective role of calcium might be overlooked.”

(BJOG 2007;114:933–43)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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