SYDNEY, July 12 (Xinhua) -- An Australian study has revealed that eating a high fiber diet during pregnancy could dramatically reduce the risk of preeclampsia, a serious illness which the study has also shown could lead to allergies and autoimmune illnesses in babies later in life.
Researchers from the University of Sydney's (UoS) Charles Perkins Centre, the Barwon Infant Study from Deakin University, Monash University, James Cook University and the Australian National University released the joint study on Wednesday.
Senior author, Professor Ralph Nanan from UoS told Xinhua that the link between diet and preeclampsia is due to acetate, a compound produced in the gut bacteria of mothers as they process fiber.
Currently, preeclampsia occurs in up to 10 percent of pregnancies and symptoms include high blood pressure, protein in the urine and severe swelling in the mother, frequently leading to preterm deliveries.
The first revelation of the study was to directly link acetate with mothers who develop preeclampsia.
"We measured acetate levels in (a group of pregnant women) and we found that mothers who developed preeclampsia have significantly lower levels of acetate than mothers who are healthy," Nanan said.
Then, through experiments on mice, the researchers showed that the development of an important immune organ called the thymus was greatly reduced but could be rescued through the acetate.
"Babies from preeclamptic pregnancies have a smaller organ, an immune organ called the thymus which sits behind your breastbone," Nanan explained.
"And the thymus is actually a very important immune organ because it produces cells which prevent allergies and autoimmune disease."
"So what this means is that we now have a mechanism to understand why a diet low in fiber, like the Western diet, is associated with more allergies and autoimmune disease later in life," he said.
Based on the research Nanan recommends pregnant women maintain a diet high in plant-based and unprocessed foods, which he said is likely to be better for health anyway.
"Eat real food, not processed food, it should mainly be plant-based, a bit of meat and a bit of fish but mostly plant-based and not too much," he said.
Nanan added that the Chinese diet which tends to include a lot of vegetables and unprocessed foods is better than the western diet which includes a high amount of preservatives.
The team responsible for the study hope that further research will confirm the link between fiber and preeclampsia and could lead to prevention of the disease as well as reduced instances of allergies and autoimmune disease later in life.