Caution: Anti-inflammatory Foods in the Third Trimester

the right side of the heart shown here in blue pumps deoxygenated blood from the body to the lungs where can fill up with oxygen and then the left side of the heart shown here in red pumps oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the rest of the body so blood travels from the body to the right side of the heart to the lungs to the left side of the heart back to the body but what if you’re still in the womb when you’re a fetus your lungs don’t work because they’re filled with fluid so how does your heart bypass the lungs and spread the oxygen-rich blood coming into the umbilical cord to the rest your body before we’re born we have an extra blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus that directly connects the right side of the heart with the left side of the heart bypassing the fluid filled lungs until you’re born and you take your first breath and then this blood vessel closes but in about one in 10,000 births this blood vessel closes prematurely by the baby still inside necessitating an emergency c-section most cases for which there’s a known cause thought to be related to taking anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen this is because the way your body keeps its blood vessel open is with the class of inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins if you take an anti-inflammatory drug you can undermine your body’s ability to keep it open and it could constrict closed prematurely that’s why most authorities recommend that these NSAID anti-inflammatory drugs be avoided in the third trimester the likelihood anything bad is going to happen is extremely remote but better safe than sorry sometimes this premature constriction happens even when women are not taking drugs though so-called idiopathic cases which is doctor speak for we have no idea what caused it well if anti-inflammatory drugs can cause it though what about anti-inflammatory foods a few years ago I profiled two cases apparently caused by pregnant women drinking chamomile tea one of which reversed the ductus opened right back up once the tea was stopped but the other baby had to come right out since then there have been other case reports for example a woman who had been eat drinking a few ounces of an acai berry drink every day or another woman who is drinking prune juice and a violet vegetable juice containing a blend of fruits and veggies pregnant women should therefore take special care when consuming lots of these powerful anti-inflammatory berry nutrients what about berries themselves and green tea and all the other wonderful anti-inflammatory foods and beverages out there this group of researchers in Brazil compared ultrasounds of third trimester babies hearts inside moms who eat a lot in these anti-inflammatory foods compared to women who ate less and they could tell a difference the speed of the blood through the ductus in the anti-inflammatory diet moms was higher suggesting it was narrower just like when you pinch the opening of a hose closed and make water shoot out faster and also the right size of their hearts and the babies and anti-inflammatory diet moms were larger than the left side suggesting some blood back up again an indicator of a tighter ductus the researcher suggested changes in late pregnancy diets may be warranted but critics replied that looked at the differences they noted may not have any clinical relevance meaning may not matter if the vessels a little more open or closed and look we don’t want to freak women out as many of these anti-inflammatory foods may be beneficial like cranberries for example which may be useful in preventing urinary tract infections which can be a risk factor for premature birth so cranberries are attractive public health and cost consideration standpoint you if it can prevent some of these preemies from being born too early so you know before cutting down on healthy food like cranberries we’d want some stronger evidence that there potentially harmful what about confounding factors for example maybe women who ate lots of anti-inflammatory foods have other characteristics that could affect fetal blood flow and you know what we would need is an interventional trial where you take pregnant women change their diets and see what happens but we didn’t have such studies until now and a few weeks during third trimester cutting back on anti inflammatory foods like tea I think dark chocolate grapes and citrus did indeed seem to open the ductus a little bit now this was during normal pregnancies and women whose fetuses had abnormally constricted vessels a few weeks of removing polyphenol rich foods reversed the ductal constriction in 96% of cases now importantly they didn’t follow these babies after birth see if it made any difference you know that complete closure only happens one in 10,000 births we’re not sure what affects just kind of relative levels of constriction may have so it’s too early to be instituting a ban on dark chocolate for pregnant women at this stage we’re left with just kind of a note of caution so during the rest of life I recommend piling on these healthy foods like berries and cocoa powder but from about 28 weeks until birth pregnant women may want to cut back until we know more you