Prenatal malnutrition and postnatal health: How diet can affect hypertension risk

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Hypertension risk was increased in those born in China during the Great Chinese Famine. ©iStock
Hypertension risk was increased in those born in China during the Great Chinese Famine. ©iStock

Related tags Nutrition Hypertension

Prenatal exposure to malnutrition can lead to diseases such as hypertension in adulthood, but the effects can be reduced or even reversed in postnatal life, according to a Chinese study.

Using the Great Chinese Famine of 1959 to 1961 as the basis for its research, the study assessed 18,593 participants from Suzhou, China, who were born in the country during the famine.

The study drew a possible link between the diets of its subjects and their risk of hypertension.

Those living in rural areas in Suzhou generally ate more vegetables than their urban counterparts, whose meat and sugar consumption was higher, and it was found that the former had a “significantly reduced risk”​ of hypertension when compared to the latter.

Based on this information, as well as retrospective analysis of data from the famine, the study suggested that the lower hypertension risk in the rural population that had been prenatally exposed to malnutrition was due to their diet, specifically before the age of 30.

Adolescence 'crucial'

This is because “nutritional status during adolescence is crucial”​ in influencing blood pressure in adulthood. Furthermore, an earlier American cohort study had suggested that “adopting a low-fat diet too late in life may not be able to reverse the risk of cardiovascular diseases”

The study stated that the “development of hypertension is mediated by complex mechanisms”​, and that “many factors that may contribute to the disease were carefully excluded in this study”​, focusing on prenatal exposure to malnutrition and postnatal lifestyle factors that could either lower or increase hypertension risk.

The result is new and important information regarding the link between prenatal malnutrition and postnatal cardiovascular health, as well as how postnatal lifestyle factors such as diet can mitigate the effects of diseases like hypertension, said the authors writing in the journal Plos One.


Source: Plos One.

“Prenatal exposure to the Great Chinese Famine and mid-age hypertension”

Authors: Lei Wu, Xueqin Feng et al.

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