Supplement could reduce cardiovascular disease risk in people of low birth weight

10 December 2014        

Baby scan

A supplement could reduce the increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease in babies born at low weights, according to research we helped to fund.

We have known for some time that babies with low birth weights who grow quickly are at increased risk, in adult life, of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke. According to University of Cambridge researchers, a molecule called co-enzyme Q (CoQ), used as a supplement, may reduce that risk.

The study, carried out in rats, showed that being born at a low weight and then growing quickly can cause the aorta, the major blood vessel out of the heart, to be prematurely aged and damaged.

The blood vessels were found to have low levels of CoQ compared with rats of normal birth weight. The levels of CoQ indicated the levels of blood vessel damage. CoQ is naturally produced and needed to keep the mitochondria, which power our cells, working properly and protect cells from damage.

Professor Susan Ozanne, a BHF Senior Research Fellow who led the research, said:

“Our study has answered a question that has puzzled doctors for some time now – why children of low birth weight who grow quickly are prone to heart disease in later life.

“We believe it’s because they are deficient in co-enzyme Q. As this molecule is also then deficient in the individual’s blood cells, it may be possible to develop a simple blood test capable of diagnosing the amount of damage to their aorta and therefore likely to develop heart disease.”

More research is now needed to see whether these findings are replicated in people so we can help reduce the increased risk of adult cardiovascular disease in some babies born at low weight.

The research was published in The FASEB journal and also funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC).

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