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Nutrient insult in early pregnancy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2007

Jane Coad
European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7TE, UK
Buthaina Al-Rasasi
European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7TE, UK
Jane Morgan
School of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7TE, UK
E-mail address:
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Nutrient insults in early pregnancy, such as nutrient deprivation during famines, are often associated with an unfavourable outcome. Suboptimal nutrition in the early stage of gestation has been linked to a number of adverse effects on fetal growth and development. Historically, nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP) was an important contributor to pregnancy-related mortality; indeed, Charlotte Bronte died from starvation and dehydration after suffering very severe NVP 4 months into her first pregnancy (Gaskell, 1858). Although NVP seldom now progresses to be life-threatening, it affects the majority of pregnant women, and potentially presents a challenge to nutrient intake in the most vulnerable period of development. Symptoms range from mild (nausea only) to severe (a level of vomiting that restricts nutrient intake and ultimately threatens metabolic and electrolyte balance). Although NVP has been documented for thousands of years, its cause has not yet been satisfactorily elucidated, but seems to be related to endocrinological changes. Pregnant women also frequently report dietary cravings and aversions during pregnancy which can be linked to both the incidence and severity of NVP. Paradoxically, NVP appears to be positively associated with a favourable outcome of pregnancy, including increased birth weight and gestational age. The mechanisms by which NVP favours the outcome of pregnancy are not known. They may be related to women increasing their nutrient intake to alleviate symptoms, improving the quality of their diet or reducing energy expenditure. Alternatively, adaptation to a reduced nutrient intake might stimulate the expression of growth factors and affect placentation or metabolism, thus favouring fetal growth when NVP resolves.

Reproduction and Development Group Symposium on ‘Manipulating early diet’
Copyright © The Nutrition Society 2002


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