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Exp Ther Med. 2013 Feb;5(2):411-418. Epub 2012 Dec 4.

Immune system function, stress, exercise and nutrition profile can affect pregnancy outcome: Lessons from a Mediterranean cohort.

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  • 1Centre for Cell and Chromosome Biology, Division of Biosciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK ;


Pregnancy is associated with major physiological and future psychosocial changes, and maternal adaptation to these changes is crucial for normal foetal development. Psychological stress in pregnancy predicts an earlier birth and lower birth weight. Pregnancy-specific stress contributes directly to preterm delivery. The importance of nutrition and exercise during pregnancy with regard to pregnancy outcome has long been acknowledged. This importance has only been further emphasized by the recent changes in food quality and availability, lifestyle changes and a new understanding of foetal programming's effects on adult outcomes. We hypothesised that for a successful pregnancy certain events at a nutritional, immune, psycho-emotional and genetic level should be tightly linked. Therefore, in this study we followed an 'integrative' approach to investigate how maternal stress, nutrition, pregnancy planning and exercise influence pregnancy outcome. A key finding of our study is that there was a significant reduction in the intake of alcohol, caffeine-containing and sugary drinks during pregnancy. However, passive smoking in the household remained unchanged. In terms of immune profile, a significant inverse correlation was noted between difficulty to 'fight' an infection and number of colds (r=-0.289, P=0.003) as well as the number of infections (r=-0.446, P<0.0001) during pregnancy. The vast majority of the pregnant women acquired a more sedentary lifestyle in the third trimester. In planned, but not in unplanned, pregnancies stress predicted infant weight, independent of age and body mass index (BMI). Notably, in mothers with negative attitudes towards the pregnancy, those with an unplanned pregnancy gave birth to infants with significantly higher weights than those with planned pregnancies. Collectively these data suggest that there is a higher order of complexity, possibly involving gene-environment interactions that work together to ensure a positive outcome for the mother as well as the foetus.


birth weight; maternal stress; smoking

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