Muscular Pregnant Women Have Healthier Placenta

Transporting nutrients to baby more difficult for less muscular women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most women want a shapely, muscular body to enhance their looks. A new study reports that those firm, hard-won muscles also improve placental health in pregnant women.

Earlier studies have found that a woman’s body composition affects the amount of nutrients that are transported to the fetus through the placenta. 

In a recent study, researchers from Oregon Health and Science University examined how maternal muscle mass affects placental function.

They report that pregnant women with low muscle mass have placentas that are more vulnerable to inflammation, which can be harmful to the baby.

"Exercise during pregnancy is important, talk to your OB/Gyn about a regimen."

Lead author Dr. P.F. O’Tierney, a postdoctoral fellow at the Heart Research Center at Oregon Health and Science University, and colleagues analyzed the gene expression profiles of 30 placentas from women who had regular, healthy pregnancies, all of whom participated in the Southampton Women’s Survey cohort. The placentas were taken within 30 minutes after delivery.

Overall, the researchers looked at 47,000 genes and found that there were differences in the genes depending on whether the mom had high, mid or low muscle mass, based on a woman's arm muscles.

They found that the placentas of less muscular women are more susceptible to the effects of “proinflammatory cytokines,” which are small protein molecules that communicate with other cells and that lead to systemic inflammation.

“Our study showed that women with low muscle mass have placentas that may be more sensitive to inflammatory molecules,” says O’Tierney. He believes that high levels of inflammation in the placenta is linked to oxidative stress and may affect the ability of the placenta to transport nutrients to the baby, he stated in an interview.

He notes that a previous study found that the placentas of women with low muscle mass did not transport amino acids, the building blocks of protein, as well as the placentas of more muscular women.

The transport of nutrients is critical to a baby’s growth. “Anything that alters this function can have long-term effects for the baby,” says O’Tierney.

To ensure that a baby has the nutrients it needs, women should exercise regularly and be mindful of their diet at a young age, he says.

“Maintaining muscle mass throughout life is important for women of all ages,” he notes, because it offers a variety of health benefits.

Regular exercise and a healthy amount of muscle mass can reduce the risk for [type 2] diabetes and keep our bones strong, O’Tierney says.

This study was published in the journal Reproductive Sciences, and was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Cancer Institute and other organizations.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 9, 2012
Last Updated:
May 11, 2012