Heart disease is the major cause of deaths in the world today and it is widely accepted that out genes interact with risk factors such as smoking, sedentary life, and obesity to promote increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
In a new study, a team of researchers from Cambridge University has found that offspring whose mothers had a complicated pregnancy are likely to be at higher risk of heart disease later in life.
Apart from the effects of adult lifestyle, there is already evidence that gene-environment interaction before we are born may be as important in predetermining future heart health and cardiovascular disease. Human studies in siblings have also shown that kids born to a mother who was obese when pregnant are at the higher risk of heart disease compared to siblings born to the same mother after reducing maternal obesity through bariatric surgery.
The recent research demonstrates that adult offspring from pregnancies complicated chronic hypoxia have greater indicators of cardiovascular disease including stiffer blood vessels and high blood pressure. Chronic hypoxia or lower-than-normal levels of oxygen in the developing fetus is one of the common causes of complicated pregnancy in humans. It occurs due to problems within the placenta and as a result of maternal smoking, gestational diabetes, or preeclampsia.
For the study, the researchers used pregnant sheep to show that maternal treatment of complicated pregnancy with the antioxidant Vitamin C could protect the adult offspring from developing high blood pressure and heart disease.
Findings of the study are detailed in a research paper published in the open-access journal PLOS Biology. First author Dr. Kirsty Brain said that the work not only provides evidence that a paternal influence on later heart disease in the offspring is possible but also shows the potential to protect the adult offspring against it by delivering preventive medication into the womb.
Vitamin C is comparatively a weak antioxidant, and while the new study provides a proof-of-principle, further research will focus on finding alternative antioxidant therapies that would be more effective in human clinical practice.
According to the researchers, their work emphasize that when looking for ways to lower the overall burden of heart disease, much more attention to prevention rather than treatment is needed. Moreover, it draws attention to a new of thinking about the disease with long-term perspective, the researchers added.