Healthy diet may cut blood pressure risk after pregnancy-related diabetes

Diabetes during pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes, raises a woman's risk of high blood pressure years later, but eating healthy may bring that risk back down, according to a new study.

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, low in red and processed meats, and low in refined grain were related to lower risk for gestational diabetes and also a lower risk for type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure later, said senior investigator Dr. Cuilin Zhang in email to Reuters Health.

Gestational diabetes, which often has no symptoms, affects about 200,000 U.S. women each year.

From 1989 to 2011, the researchers tracked almost 4,000 women in the Nurses' Health Study II with a history of gestational diabetes.

Over an average of 18 years, 1,069 women developed high blood pressure.

Women with the healthiest diets were about 25 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those with the least healthy diets, the researchers reported in the journal Hypertension.

Fiber from whole grains and legumes could help improve the way the body processes sugar and handles inflammation, said Zhang, who works at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health in Rockville, Maryland.

Fruits and vegetables contain high potassium and vitamin K, ascorbic acid and antioxidants, which could help the heart and blood vessels, she added.

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A healthy diet helps reduce the risk of high blood pressure for all people, not just women who've had gestational diabetes, she said.

The new results are not surprising, said Dr. Cheryl Bushnell of Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston Salem, North Carolina, who was not part of the new study.

"The healthy diets in this study all emphasize nutrients (fruits and vegetables, fresh vs. non-processed food) that are high in potassium and low in sodium, both of which can help lower blood pressure," Bushnell told Reuters Health by email.

High blood pressure "is the single-most modifiable risk factor for stroke, so avoiding (it) will help reduce the risk for stroke," she said. "Other major conditions associated with (high blood pressure) include heart disease, heart failure, and chronic kidney disease, all of which shorten the life expectancy."

Women should discuss their history of gestational diabetes with their doctors, Bushnell said.

And doctors should encourage women who had diabetes in pregnancy to adopt a healthy diet after giving birth, Zhang said.