Statins may shield unborn babies from mother’s stress

New York: Mothers who consume statins are likely to protect the hearts of babies in the womb from the adverse effects of stress during pregnancy, says a new study.

The findings showed that intake of statins — widely-prescribed drugs to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood — help to counteract the negative impact of stress hormones on foetal growth and heart development in mice.

Babies that are exposed to excessive stress hormones in the womb are often born underweight and have a greater risk of heart disease in later life.

“At present there is no treatment and babies may be born prematurely or small, and will be at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even psychiatric disorders later in life,” said Megan Holmes, professor from University of Edinburgh in Britain.

Also, the drug treatment was found to promote normal development of the heart and helps the baby to grow to a healthy birthweight.

Stress hormones stop the placenta from developing normal blood vessels, which cuts back the blood supply to the growing foetus, the researchers said.

Thus the developing foetus does not grow to full size as a result, and its heart function does not develop normally.

Normally, the placenta produces a key enzyme that helps in break down of mother’s stress hormones and limits the amount of active hormones that can reach the baby’s blood supply, thus protecting the unborn baby.

But when the expectant mother is stressed, they produce less of this enzyme, the researchers said.

“These are very exciting results suggesting that there may finally be a potential therapy for women whose placenta is unable to maintain the normal growth of her baby,” Holmes added.

For the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team analysed mice that cannot produce the enzyme as a model of maternal stress.

The researchers then administered Pravastatin — the drug that may counteract the consequences of increased levels of the stress hormone corticosterone within the placentas of mice.

“How Pravastatin counteracts the stress hormone is not yet understood, therefore, more research is needed to see whether the drug will have the same effect in humans,” said Jeremy Pearson, professor and associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation.