High blood pressure risk for gestational diabetes, study says

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Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes could be at greater risk of developing high blood pressure in later life, research has suggested.

But a healthy diet could counteract that risk by 20 per cent, according to a study looking at nearly 4,000 women with a history of gestational diabetes.

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, low in red and processed meats, and low in refined grain could also mean a lower risk type 2 diabetes.

It is the first study to show that following a healthy diet – known to reduce high blood pressure risk among the general population – also reduces the risk among women with prior gestational diabetes.

The study’s senior author, Cuilin Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., a senior investigator in the Epidemiology Branch of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), said: “Our study suggests that women who have had gestational diabetes may indeed benefit from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in red and processed meats.”

Researchers looked at the health of women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II, part of the Diabetes &Women’s Health study. They were asked to complete a questionnaire about their eating habits every four years from 1989 to 2011.

Eating habits were categorised into three different “healthy” diets including the Alternative Eating Index, Mediterranean-style Diet, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH).

Over an average of 18 years, 1,069 women developed high blood pressure.

Zhang said: “High blood pressure affects about 30 per cent of US adults and increases the risk for heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Our study shows that a healthful diet is associated with decreased high blood pressure in an at-risk population.”

The study also showed that an increase in body mass index (BMI) explained around 20-30 per cent of the link between lower healthy dietary pattern scores and increased risk of hypertension.

“Our earlier research showed that diabetes in pregnancy increased a woman’s risk of developing hypertension, even 16 years after giving birth.

“Our current study shows that a healthy diet, which has been proven to reduce high blood pressure risk in the general population, appears to be equally effective in reducing the risk in this group of high risk women.”