Popular health supplement for pregnant women could put babies at risk

When Professor Leonie Callaway and her team launched a probiotic study last year, they expected to find that the supplements helped prevent a type of diabetes that affects pregnant women.

Instead, they came across surprising results.

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His research did not support studies, including a 2017 reportwho found that taking probiotics helped prevent gestational diabetes.

But even more alarmingly, it suggests that pregnant women who take the supplements could be twice as likely to develop a potentially dangerous complication known as preeclampsia – a condition that can lead to serious, even fatal, complications for both mother and child. the baby.

“We thought: wait, we have to look into this,” Callaway told 7NEWS.com.au.

Health companies are marketing the supplements – which are readily available in pharmacies across Australia – as a way to boost gut health and immunity. Some research even suggests that supplements may prevent gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that affects pregnant women.

But Callaway Peer-reviewed The results – which were published earlier this year – raise questions about whether women should use probiotic supplements during pregnancy.

The results

Callaway and his team analyzed evidence from randomized controlled trials to help understand potential links between gestational diabetes and probiotics.

She became interested in investigating because gestational diabetes is a common problem – about 41,000 women in Australia have been diagnosed with that in 2019.

What they found, however, was an increased risk of hypertension — or high blood pressure — in pregnant women taking the supplements in powder or tablet form, Callaway says.

“We’ve had interviews with our counterparts doing similar research in New Zealand, and they’ve found similar results,” she said.

The research conducted by Callaway’s team at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital Foundation (RBWH) involved 955 women.

Among them, 6.5% who received probiotics developed preeclampsia, compared to 3.5% of women who received a placebo.

In light of their findings, Callaway and her team raised concerns about probiotics, which are commonly marketed to pregnant women.

“Given the risk of harm and the little observed benefit, we urge caution in the use of probiotics during pregnancy,” reads the research paper.

But the researchers said they see no problem with pregnant women getting probiotics through food, meaning items such as yogurt and kimchi are still on the menu.

The condition

While none of the women involved in the study would speak, other women who have suffered from preeclampsia have described how terrifying the condition can be.

Australian woman Melinda Ikitoelagi has been diagnosed with preeclampsia, although it is unclear whether she took probiotics during her pregnancy.

Her baby Aurelio was born three months premature and had a difficult start to life.

After being born weighing just over a kilogram, Aurelio’s first 76 days were spent in intensive care at RBWH.

Preeclampsia sufferer Melinda Ikitoelagi warns other moms-to-be. Credit: 7NEWS
Melinda’s baby, Aurelio, was born three months premature. Credit: 7NEWS

“Those first few days and weeks, I really felt like I was touching and going,” Melinda said. 7NEWS.

“There were a lot of tears and we just thought: are we going to lose our baby?

“I had already had a miscarriage, so I was afraid of losing another child.”

Doctors were able to stabilize Aurelio, who is now a healthy baby.

Aurelio spent 76 days in intensive care. Credit: 7NEWS

But Melinda says she is grateful for RBWH’s support and wants to see more research in this area.

Next steps and tips

While Callaway’s study is a start, she says more research is needed to better understand both how preeclampsia occurs and how probiotics might trigger it.

Callaway added that she was speaking with the Therapeutic Goods Administration to discuss the matter further.

Meanwhile, 7NEWS.com.au has also contacted the TGA for further comment.

“In general, we really need to look more into these issues and do more research to learn more about women’s health and how these conditions impact pregnant women,” she said.

“Warning labels on bottles are not for me to decide — regulators are to decide,” she said.

“But my advice is for women is to always check with your GP before taking anything new.”

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