Study Reveals Cause of Many Preterm Births


A new study has revealed a leading cause of many preterm births. Reports indicate that almost 15 million babies are born prematurely every year, counting as more than 1 in 10 of all the world’s births. Out of the overall 15 million, over 1 million die as a result of being born too soon, and many of the survivors suffer lifelong disabilities. It appears that multiple factors involved in these premature births are due to premature aging of the placenta. According to researchers from the University of Texas, oxidative stress causes premature aging of the placenta, which results in a significant increase in pregnancies ending before 37 weeks.

Out of the 4 million babies born each year in the United States, about 1 in 8 will be born premature. Many of these early babies will require neonatal care, which can sometimes be extensive. Every day in the United States there are about 1,400 premature babies born. In order to study what has been termed an epidemic of preterm births, researchers performed numerous tests to reveal the factors that might cause the early deliveries. What they found was that oxidative stress plays a key role in the inability to carry the babies to term.

Oxidative stress can be comprised of many things,  including environmental pollutions and toxins. Generally speaking, antioxidants in the mother’s body are there to control the damage caused by the inherent environmental oxidative stress factors. However, when additional stressors, such as smoking or poor nutrition are added, the mother’s system is overwhelmed. When this occurs, premature aging of the placenta can occur, which can trigger a preterm birth.

While there are many antioxidant supplements available, researchers have discovered that they fail to reduce the incidence of premature births. They conclude that the supplements fail because the methods of how oxidative stress damage occurs have not been adequately studied and are still unclear. Regardless of the uncertainty of why the antioxidant supplements do not seem to work, the study of the link between preterm births and oxidative stress indicate that stress is a cause of many early births.

The study, released yesterday in the American Journal of Pathology, outlines the testing performed. Fetal membranes were used by researches to determine whether oxidative stress would cause any differences in placental tissues. What the study leaders found was that exposure to oxidative stress, specifically cigarette smoke, caused the placental tissue to rapidly age. When the aging of the placental tissue occurs, it triggers the rupture of the amniotic sac, which leads to delivery.

The lead researcher of the study, Ramkumar Menon, Ph.D., of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at the University of Texas Medical Branch, indicates that this was the first study to look at oxidative stress in this manner. Dr. Menon further states that it now proves that oxidative stress factors will induce senescence, otherwise known as aging, in these fetal cells. The research performed during the study on these tissues reveals that the cause of many preterm births can be traced back to avoidable stressors such as cigarette smoke, poor nutrition, drinking and high body mass. Researchers will now be able to target new strategies in the quest to avoid premature deliveries and reduce the instances of neonatal care for early births.

By Dee Mueller
on twitter @TuesdayDG

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