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Consumption of Whole Grains May Enhance Reproductive Health in Women of Child-Bearing Age

Abstracted by Susan Sweeny Johnson, PhD, Biochem, from “Whole Grains Are Associated with Serum Concentrations of High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein among Premenopausal Women”, in the Journal of Nutrition. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.124164.

KEY WORDS: Whole Grains, C-reactive protein, premenopausal women, reproductive health

Low level inflammation can have a number of adverse effects on health. Elevated blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein released by the liver when low level inflammation is present, is correlated among women with future risk of cardiovascular disease and events, type-II diabetes, and cancers of all types (1-4). Among reproductive aged women, elevated CRP blood levels are associated with increased risk of pregnancy complications and preeclampsia (5), gestational diabetes (6), preterm birth (7), fertility problems (8), and incidence of polycystic ovary disease (9).

Whole grains contain fiber, beneficial fats, phytoestrogens, and antioxidants and as such may play an anitinflammatory role in the body. Whole grain consumption has previously been shown to be associated with lower risk of cardiovascular events, diabetes and colon disease (10-12).

In this new study, consumption of whole grains by 259 healthy premenopausal women and concurrent blood levels of CRP were examined for any statistically significant correlation. (Participant’s) Participants’ consumption of whole grains was determined by recall of food consumed in previous 24 hours before each blood test. Blood was drawn over two consecutive menstrual cycles, at eight specific times per cycle to account for variations caused by menses. The women were divided into three groups based on their average consumption of whole grains per cycle. A whole grain serving was defined as 16 g or 1/2 cup of a 100% whole grain food.

Group 1: 0 servings per day
Group 2: 0.01-0.99 servings per day
Group 3: 1 or more servings per day

Results show that whole grain intake was associated with lower CRP concentrations after adjusting for age, race, BMI, illness, and antiinflammatory drug use. Participants in Group 2 had, on average, 11.5% lower CRP concentrations (P = 0.02*) and Group 3 had 12.3% lower CRP concentrations (P = 0.02*) compared with non-consumers in Group 1. Thus, even moderate consumption of whole grains may benefit healthy women.

In this study, consumption of whole grains correlated to a general healthy diet. Although increased dietary fiber, folate, vitamin E, magnesium, B vitamins, and whole fruit intake and reduced total fat and saturated fat were associated with increased whole grain consumption, correcting for these factors did not cancel out the beneficial effect of consuming whole grains.

The authors suggest exploring the use of whole grains as an intervention for premenopausal women to reduce potential reproductive difficulties.

Infertility is only one aspect of poor reproductive heath that may be aided by nutrition.  According to data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), in 2002 an estimated 7.3 million American women aged 15–44 years had experienced difficulties conceiving or bringing a pregnancy to term during their lifetime and received infertility services in their lifetime. According to preliminary calculations, which are likely to underestimate the true value, the cost of diagnosing and treating infertility exceeds $5 billion per year(13).

*p is a measure of the statistical significance of a trend. P< 0.05 is considered to be significant.

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