US Pharm. 2019;44(2):HS-6-HS-8.

A recent study of sheep by scientists from Cambridge University published in PLOS Biology finds that offspring whose mothers had a complicated pregnancy may be at increased risk of heart disease when they are older.

It is known that human genes interact with traditional lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and/or a sedentary lifestyle to increase cardiovascular disease risk. In addition to the effects of adult lifestyle, there is already evidence that the prenatal gene-environment interaction may be equally important, if not more so, in “programming” future cardiovascular health.

Human studies in siblings, for example, show that children born to a mother who was obese during pregnancy are at greater risk of heart disease than siblings born to the same mother after bariatric surgery to reduce maternal obesity.

The research shows that adult offspring from pregnancies complicated by chronic hypoxia have increased indicators of cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and stiffer blood vessels.

The Cambridge study, led by Professor Dino Giussani, used pregnant sheep to show that maternal treatment with the antioxidant vitamin C during a complicated pregnancy could protect the adult offspring from developing hypertension and heart disease. The work, therefore, not only offers evidence that a prenatal influence on later heart disease in the offspring is indeed possible but also shows the potential to protect against it by “bringing preventative medicine back into the womb,” said Dr. Kirsty Brain, first author of the study.