Adopting a healthy diet and awareness of nutrition has been regarded as the most effective method of prevention and treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure) for years, and is often used in favor of medication. Historically, the application of nutritional treatment to prevent high blood pressure has been applied to the general population – those who are not particularly at risk for hypertension, but could still be susceptible to the affliction. Now, research suggests that a healthy diet could greatly improve the health of particularly high risk populations, including women with gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes affects an estimated 5% of all pregnant women, a result of hormone production that prevents the body from utilizing insulin properly. While women who have gestational diabetes don’t usually maintain their diabetic status, they can suffer from long term effects as a result of the disease. Gestational diabetes leads to increased risk of type II diabetes and hypertension.

Hypertension is a growing epidemic, causing potentially fatal stress to the cardiovascular system. While hypertension may seem like an inevitability for people later in life, high blood pressure in women can manifest early – especially if they’ve had gestational diabetes. Research conducted by Dr. Ciulin Zhang, a doctor at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development suggests that a healthy diet is just as effective at treating high risk populations as it is the general population. This is great news for new mothers and other women who had gestational diabetes because they may not need medical intervention or medication to keep their blood pressure regulated.

The study was longitudinal, spanning over 22 years, and took into consideration three different diets: The Mediterranean diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and the Alternative Health Eating Index. These diets emphasize low sodium, and focus on the consumption of nutrient-rich foods including fruits and vegetables, fish, and legumes. Processed foods and red meat are consumed at a minimum.

Women in the study participated by adopting a healthy lifestyle by eating in adherence to these diets, then reported their dietary habits in a survey conducted every 4 years. While the weight of participants fluctuated, they were healthier overall, with instances of hypertension few and far between.

Current treatment plans for women with gestational diabetes include a healthy diet, exercise and glucose level monitoring. This research suggests that women should continue living a healthy lifestyle with proper diet long after giving birth, in order to ensure that gestational diabetes doesn’t have a long term effect on mothers and women everywhere.