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Complicated pregnancies can raise heart disease risk for offspring

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are, of course, many genetic and lifestyle factors that increase the risk of heart disease including smoking, family history of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and little physical activity.

Luckily, many of these risk factors can be easily managed and prevented with healthy lifestyle choices. However, a new study has found that complications at birth can increase the risk of heart disease for offspring later in life.

Researchers from Cambridge University conducted the study which indicates that prenatal care and the prenatal environment play an equally important role in determining heart disease risk and future heart health. The study was published in the journal PLOS Biology.

The researchers found that pregnancies complicated by hypoxia, where the fetus is deprived of sufficient oxygen, produced offspring that had risk factors of heart disease like high blood pressure. Hypoxia is a common complication that can occur because of maternal smoking or gestational diabetes.

The researchers tested the effectiveness of an antioxidant, vitamin C, in pregnant sheep who showed signs of pregnancy complications. The team wanted to see if an antioxidant treatment would help protect the offspring from developing heart disease later on in life.

Unfortunately, the treatment was not all that effective because vitamin C doesn’t possess very strong antioxidant properties. The researchers say further testing is needed to find alternative antioxidants that could do a better job of preventing heart disease risk.

The experts also stress that prevention is key in reducing heart disease risks linked to birth complications.

“Our discoveries emphasize that when considering strategies to reduce the overall burden of heart disease, much greater attention to prevention rather than treatment is required,” said Dino Giussani, the leader of the study. “Treatment should start as early as possible during the developmental trajectory, rather than waiting until adulthood when the disease process has become irreversible.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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