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Study: Plant-based Diet before Pregnancy Reduces Gestational Diabetes Risk

Findings Were Shared during the Virtual American Diabetes Association (ADA) 80th Scientific Sessions

As seen in Medscape News
Becky McCall
June 18, 2020

Healthy plant-based diets prior to pregnancy may help lower the risk of gestational diabetes, data from a large, prospective cohort study indicate.

“From these results, we can say that a pre-pregnancy plant-based diet, particularly one that also limits unhealthful plant-based foods such as refined grains, potatoes, and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, may be associated with a lower risk of gestational diabetes,” Frank Qian, MD, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News.

Qian and colleagues found a 19% reduction in risk for gestational diabetes in those who had followed a richer overall plant-based diet prior to pregnancy after adjusting for age, parity, race, family history of diabetes, smoking, physical activity, alcohol, total energy, margarine intake, and body mass index (BMI).

Qian presented the findings during the virtual American Diabetes Association (ADA) 80th Scientific Sessions. He added that “another benefit of plant-based diets is reduced consumption of certain animal-based foods, particularly red and processed meats, which seem particularly adverse in terms of increasing gestational diabetes risk.”

The study aimed to build on existing knowledge that plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and to see if this held true for gestational diabetes.

Jacinda Nicklas, MD, from the University of Colorado, Boulder, who also presented work during the same session, recognized the importance of this area of research but acknowledged the difficulty in finding ways to prevent gestational diabetes.

“This study may spark some interest in testing the impact of a healthy plant-based diet for high risk women, given…we know plant-based diets improve health in general,” she said, adding that it showed an important association but not a causal link.

“We don’t know if plant-based diets actually decrease the risk. It could be that women who tend to eat healthy plant-based diets also tend to be healthier in other ways,” she observed.

Identifying Modifiable Risk Factors to Prevent Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs in 7.6% of all pregnancies in the United States and is linked to adverse perinatal outcomes as well as increased long-term cardiometabolic risk. It is also associated with long-term obesity and other metabolic disorders in the child.

“It is crucial to identify novel modifiable risk factors that we can act on to prevent gestational diabetes,” said Qian.

Dietary guidelines for Americans (2015-2020) recommend a healthy vegetarian diet as one means of lowering risk for type 2 diabetes and CVD.

“The vitamins, nutrients, and polyphenols found in plant-based foods…might help weight maintenance, improve glycemic control, improve blood pressure and inflammation, and so forth, and therefore reduce risk of type 2 diabetes and CVD,” Qian observed.