Antioxidant power for pregnant women
Why is antioxidant power for pregnant women necessary? Antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E are compounds that inhibit the oxidation process that produces free radicals in your body. And free radicals can cause damage to cells. Antioxidants, in other words, help fight various cancers and lower their risk too.
Importance of antioxidant power during pregnancy:
During pregnancy, increased nutrition is required for both the mother and the baby. Normally, during placental development, oxidative stress is generated. So, when the antioxidant power is reduced, oxidative stress increases both inside the placenta and in maternal blood circulation. This results in adverse pregnancy outcomes. To prevent this, taking in adequate levels of micronutrient antioxidants like selenium, copper, zinc, manganese, and vitamins C and E becomes important.
During which phase of pregnancy do you need antioxidant power?
Proper nutrition is of utmost importance both before and during pregnancy for the wellbeing of the mother and baby. Pregnancy increases the metabolic demand in the mother, and extra nutrition is required to deal with the physiological changes and for the growing foetus. Lack of enough vitamins and minerals can lead to a competition for nutrition between the foetus and the mother’s body, which can cause adverse health effects on both. Deficiency of trace elements that act as antioxidants is directly associated with mortality and morbidity of the newborn baby. Deficiencies of antioxidants can also lead to foetal growth restriction, preeclampsia, and increased risk of diseases in adulthood like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Ill effects of a diet lacking in antioxidants
Preeclampsia is one of the leading causes of maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality. When it is combined with other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, it causes more maternal deaths. Most of the time, the infant is delivered early, causing higher rates of preterm delivery and low infant birth weight. Foetal growth restriction due to lack of antioxidants has also shown to cause higher rates of perinatal mortality and morbidity.
For pregnant women diagnosed with diabetes, eating antioxidant-rich foods like spinach and wheat germ helps prevent birth defects like neural tube defects in their children. Neural tube defects resulting in serious neurological consequences are more prevalent in diabetic women than non-diabetic women.
Diabetic mothers having high blood sugar levels usually have embryos with high blood sugar levels too. This blood sugar produces a lot of free radicals which the existing antioxidants fail to eliminate in an undeveloped embryo, thus causing oxidative stress. This stress results in the inhibition of the Pax-3 gene that leads to neural tube defects. That is why antioxidant supplements are as important as folic acid supplements for pregnant women. Folic acid, also an antioxidant, helps in the prevention of neural tube defects.
Some micronutrients that give antioxidant power to pregnant women are:
- Selenium: Maternal selenium concentrations usually fall during pregnancy. Selenium is transported to the baby through the umbilical cord. Reduced serum selenium concentration results in recurrent early pregnancy losses. It has been seen that reduced selenium, in turn, causes a reduction in antioxidant protection of membranes and DNA during early embryonic development. Selenium status is very important for antioxidant defence and helps women prevent preeclampsia and foetal growth restrictions too.
- Copper: Copper is important for optimal embryonic development. Deficiencies can lead to early embryonic death, structural abnormalities and long term effects like increased risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced fertilisation rates. Severe deficiencies can cause reproductive failure and early embryonic death.
- Zinc: In pregnancy, zinc helps in foetal brain development and helps the mother during labour. The requirement of zinc doubles up during the third trimester. The deficiency of zinc mainly causes foetal growth restriction. Zinc deficiency has also been related to preeclampsia.
- Manganese: Manganese is an important co-factor for many enzymes that protect the placenta from oxidative stress.
- Vitamins C and E: Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, whereas, Vitamin E is a lipid-soluble vitamin, both of which act as antioxidants. Both of these are needed to prevent maternal and perinatal morbidity.
Nutrients always work best when they are obtained in the natural way, i.e. from food. Some of the antioxidant-rich foods are as follows:
- Purple, red and blue grapes: Dark coloured grapes are loaded with phytochemicals like anthocyanin and proanthocyanidin, which boost the immune system and provide antioxidants like vitamin C and selenium.
- Blueberries: Blueberries protect cells from damage and inflammation. They also contain many vitamins and minerals and strengthen the immune system.
- Red berries: Raspberries and strawberries contain a phytochemical like ellagic acid and, along with antioxidants, helps protect against oxidative stress.
- Nuts: Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, and Brazil nuts contain high amounts of selenium. They are the most balanced foods that help a lot in pregnancy.
- Dark green vegetables: Dark green vegetables like broccoli and spinach are rich in antioxidants like Vitamin C, E and A. Lettuce also has lutein and quercetin that are both powerful antioxidants.
- Sweet potatoes and orange coloured vegetables: Both white and sweet potatoes have lots of vitamins C and A. Orange coloured vegetables are nutrient and phytochemical-rich. Carrots especially are a good source of Vitamin A.
- Whole grains: Whole grains protect the body against any oxidative stress. Whole grain cereals have zinc and selenium that act as antioxidants.
- Beans: Beans rank high in antioxidant activity. These are loaded with nutrients that include many vitamins and minerals. Soybeans are rich in vitamin C, zinc and selenium. Lentils and black-eyed peas are also rich in zinc. Kidney beans have high amounts of folate.
- Fish: Fish has omega-3 fatty acids that help prevent any inflammation due to free radicals. Bangda, rawas, rohu and pomfret are the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
The role of antioxidants is particularly important in conditions like preeclampsia and foetal growth restriction that is mainly caused due to oxidative stress. Supplementation is not always necessary as antioxidants can be obtained from a healthy diet.