Preterm birth is a leading cause of child mortality and illness, and is a particular problem in developing countries. In Indonesia, the rate of preterm birth has been reported as 15% overall and was as high as 50% in at least one hospital. While the exact causes of preterm birth are not fully understood, and are likely multifactorial, oxidative stress is thought to be a factor. Micronutrients can have antioxidant effects in the body, and may play a role in reducing preterm birth. Conversely, high maternal levels of heavy metals may contribute to preterm births.
In a study published in the Journal of Pregnancy, researchers from Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Indonesia examined the link between preterm births and levels of micronutrients and heavy metals in the maternal serum, placenta, and cord blood of 51 individuals. The authors found that preterm delivery was associated with lower levels of antioxidant micronutrients including iron, manganese, copper, and zinc, and higher levels of lead and mercury, which are heavy metals.
The results suggest that micronutrients and heavy metals may play important, but counteracting roles in preterm birth. Avoiding heavy-metal exposure and taking micronutrient dietary supplements may help to reduce preterm births, but further research is required to validate this hypothesis.
This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Illustration by David Jury.