Common Western diet ingredient may put pregnant women at risk

An essential fatty acid commonly found in Western diets may put pregnant women at risk for increased uterine contractions, inflammation, and more, according to a new study out of the Physiological Society. The potential changes caused by this fatty acid, the research reveals, may result in poor fetal development and increased risk of experiencing pregnancy complications.

The study implicates omega 6 fatty acids, and linoleic acid in particular, as the potential cause for multiple problems during pregnancy. Unlike certain diets that are higher in omega 3 fatty acids, the typical Western diet is high in omega 6 fats, especially linoleic acid, which is found in the vegetable oils used for cooking, as well as in fried foods like potato chips that are cooked in these oils.

Though omega 6 fatty acids are important for health, excessive consumption of them may lead to the development of inflammation and, over time, the health problems that result from chronic inflammation. A number of health authorities and past studies have pointed toward alternative diets high in omega 3 and low in omega 6 as ideal for overall health.

This latest study involved pregnant rats that were fed a diet high in linoleic acid. Researchers monitored the rats during their pregnancies, as well as the development of the babies, liver inflammatory proteins, leptin hormone levels, and cholesterol levels. The diet didn't increase the levels of fat, salt, or sugar, which tends to happen in human diets high in linoleic acid.

The results, according the study, were changes to inflammatory proteins concentrations, as well as changes to a hormone that potentially regulates fetal growth and development, and changes in levels of a protein that can cause uterine contractions during pregnancy.

Though additional research would be necessary to determine whether these results are also applicable to humans, they do suggest that consuming a diet with controlled omega 6 levels may be beneficial for pregnant women.