Low Maternal Cholesterol Tied To Premature Birth

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Low Maternal Cholesterol

Pregnant women who have very low cholesterol may face a greater risk of delivering their babies prematurely than women with more moderate cholesterol levels, a team led by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), reported today.

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In a study published in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics, NHGRI's Max Muenke, M.D.; Robin J. Edison, M.D., M.P.H.; Kate Berg, Ph.D.; and colleagues from the NIH Clinical Center; Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore; Howard University, Washington; and Greenwood Genetic Center, Greenwood, S.C., confirm previous findings by other groups that very high levels of maternal cholesterol can increase the risk of premature birth. However, in a surprising new twist, the researchers found that low maternal cholesterol levels, which may be related to a woman's genetic makeup, diet or other health factors, also may lead to adverse birth outcomes, including premature birth and low birth weight.

"Based on our initial findings, it appears that too little cholesterol may be as bad as too much cholesterol during pregnancy, but it is too early to extrapolate these results to the general population. More research is needed to replicate this outcome and to extend it to other groups," said Dr. Muenke, the study's senior author and chief of the Medical Genetics Branch in NHGRI's Division of Intramural Research. "For now, the best advice for pregnant women is to follow the guidance of their health care providers when it comes to diet and exercise."

Premature birth is a major cause of infant death and raises the risk of many potentially disabling conditions, including cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, blindness, deafness and respiratory illness. Factors contributing to premature birth include maternal genetics, fetal genetics and environmental components, such as nutrition, stress, and infection.

In their study of 1,058 South Carolina women and their newborns, researchers found about 5 percent of the women with cholesterol levels in the moderate range of 159-261 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) gave birth prematurely. In contrast, white women with the lowest cholesterol levels

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