Gut-friendly bacteria during pregnancy
Heidi Fritz, MA, ND
Novel research indicates emerging health benefits of probiotics on maternal and perinatal health. These include reduced risk of gestational diabetes and associated complications as well as reduced risk of preeclampsia.
The neonatal and long-term health benefits of probiotic supplementation during pregnancy are becoming better recognized among the natural health care community. The health benefits of probiotics for maternal health and complications around delivery outcomes are less well known. Nonetheless, several studies indicate that probiotic use in pregnancy is well justified from the standpoint of maternal health. The gut microbiome has been associated with risk of several perinatal complications, including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes (GDM), and maternal weight gain during pregnancy.
According to a 2010 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, probiotic supplementation combined with dietary modification reduced the risk of GDM, compared to dietary modification alone. The rate of GDM was 13 percent among women receiving dietary counselling plus probiotics, compared to 36 percent among women receiving diet counselling and placebo, and 34 percent among women receiving no intervention. The probiotic species given were Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12.
Another study of 256 women found that supplementation with a combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12, beginning in the first trimester, was associated with lower blood glucose, lower insulin levels, and greater insulin sensitivity.
Additionally, a 2015 study examined 64 women who already had gestational diabetes, randomizing them to receive a probiotic or placebo for eight weeks. This probiotic supplement contained Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus thermophilus, and Lactobacillus delbrueckii bulgaricus. The women receiving the probiotic had significantly lower fasting blood glucose than the placebo group. The probiotic group also had lower weight gain.
Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs in pregnancy characterized by elevated blood pressure and protein in the urine. Because preeclampsia limits placental blood circulation, it increases risk of a small-for-gestational-age baby and stillbirth. In the mother, preeclampsia can lead to seizure and heart problems. It has been suggested that probiotics may reduce placental inflammation and blood pressure.
Data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, a study that followed 33,399 pregnant women between 2002 and 2008, found that consumption of foods rich in probiotics was associated with reduced risk of developing preeclampsia. Daily intake of probiotic milk products was associated with a 20 percent reduced risk of all severities of preeclampsia. Another study of overweight pregnant women found alteration of gut bacteria in association with elevated blood pressure.
This research indicates the emerging health benefits of probiotics on maternal health parameters during pregnancy and delivery. We expect that ongoing research will uncover further details of these applications.