British scientists are to launch an investigation into whether vitamin C could prevent the pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia, reports Ananova News.
Pre-eclampsia affects ten per cent of pregnant women and can be fatal to both mothers and babies. Researchers at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford are studying vitamins in a search for the cause of the illness.
The condition can go undetected in early pregnancy, but classic warning signs include raised blood pressure and protein in the urine. There is currently no effective treatment for the illness, and yet for one in every 50 pregnant women it can cause serious complications, or even fatalities.
A three-year study, led by Professor Christopher Redman of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, will aim to determine whether women with pre-eclampsia suffer an excessive release of debris from the placenta, and whether antioxidants such as vitamins might help.
Redman said: "Every year between 500-600 babies and up to five mothers die as a result of this and in severe cases, doctors often have no choice but to deliver the baby early, which can also give rise to premature birth complications."
Redman said all pregnant women experience a state of acute inflammation in their circulation. Pre-eclampsia results when this inflammation gets beyond control.
The project, which is part funded by medical charity Action Research, will develop evidence from previous studies carried out by the group which show that tissue breaking away from the placenta into the mother's circulation could be a cause of the complications.
The mother's immune system reacts to the tissue debris, just as if it was a parasite, the group said. However, mothers with pre-eclampsia have more of this debris, which in turn produces a more inflammatory response.
The researchers will investigate whether a shortage of oxygen in the placenta causes increased debris and whether protective antioxidants (including vitamins C and E) could possibly prevent or reduce this process.