“The more you went up in diet quality, the less the risk for severe congenital heart anomalies,” said lead author Dr. Lorenzo Botto, a professor of pediatrics and a medical geneticist at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
However, this study didn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship between a healthy diet and a lower risk of heart birth defects. The research only showed an association between the two.
The study appears in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood (Fetal & Neonatal Edition).
Congenital heart defects affect one of every 100 newborns in the United States, and cause nearly one out of every four infant deaths related to birth defects, according to background information in the study.
“They are common, they are critical and we really don’t know how to prevent them,” Botto said.
The new study was inspired by earlier findings that a high-quality diet could reduce the risk of birth defects such as cleft palate or spina bifida, Botto said.
The research team evaluated data from almost 10,000 mothers of babies born with heart defects, and about 9,500 mothers of healthy babies. The babies were born between October 1997 and December 2009, and are part of the larger, federally funded National Birth Defects Prevention Study, Botto said.
Mothers were asked about what they ate in the year prior to their pregnancy. Researchers graded their diet based on how closely it followed the Mediterranean Diet and the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy, a common diet plan recommended to expecting mothers.