Role of nutrition in pregnancy with phenylketonuria and birth defects.

Pediatrics 2003 Dec;112(6 Pt 2):1534-6

Department of Health and Human Performance, University of Houston, Houston, Texas 77204-6020, USA.

Objective: The maternal phenylketonuria (PKU) syndrome is caused by high blood phenylalanine (Phe) levels during pregnancy, leading to a host of birth defects, especially microcephaly and congenital heart disease (CHD). For finding whether the maternal PKU syndrome could be prevented, an international collaborative study was organized to evaluate treatment with a Phe-restricted diet. Blood Phe levels, maternal weight gain, and nutrient intakes during pregnancy were evaluated as to their effect on the rate of microcephaly and CHD in the offspring.

Methods: The study was a prospective, longitudinal effort aimed at lowering blood Phe during pregnancy. Women were enrolled at time of referral for pregnancy. Nutrient intake analysis, which serves as the basis for this report, was available from 251 pregnancies. Subjects were stratified by blood Phe control of < or =600 micromol/L by 8 weeks gestation or >600 micromol/L by 8 weeks gestation. Outcome of these pregnancies was correlated to blood Phe levels, weight gain, and nutrient intake.

Results: The study goal was to attain blood Phe levels of 120 to 360 micromol/L 3 months preconception; however, this goal was achieved by only a limited number of patients. Therefore, the data presented were based on blood Phe control < or =600 micromol/L or >600 micromol/L by 8 weeks of gestation. Blood Phe control of < or =600 micromol/L by 8 weeks of gestation was attained by 86 (34.3%) of the 251 women in this study, whereas the other 165 women had blood Phe control >600 micromol/L by 8 weeks of gestation. Of the 251 offspring, 166 were born with normal head circumference and 85 were born with microcephaly (<2 standard deviations below normal). Women with blood Phe >600 micromol/L at 8 weeks of gestation included 78 (92%) of the 85 infants with microcephaly compared with 8% in the group of women who had blood Phe levels < or =600 micromol/L. Weight gain during pregnancy was related to the rate of microcephaly. The highest occurrence of microcephaly (58%) was found in the pregnant women who gained <70% of recommended weight gain. Stepwise logistic regression analysis was used to determine factors associated with microcephaly. Significant factors included higher blood Phe levels when off diet, higher average Phe exposure during the pregnancy, low prepregnancy weight, poor weight gain during the pregnancy, and lower intake of protein and higher iron intake during the pregnancy. Infants with CHD were found only in the group of women who had blood Phe levels >600 micromol/L by 8 weeks of gestation. There was a higher rate of CHD in the offspring who were born to women who consumed <50% of the recommended intake of protein in the first trimester. The main source of protein for women with PKU is the medical food; therefore, when protein intake was low, vitamin and mineral intakes were also inadequate.

Conclusions: The data indicate that blood Phe control and how soon it is attained during pregnancy with PKU is important. Normal pregnancy weight gain should be encouraged to reduce microcephaly. Adequate protein and vitamin intakes early in pregnancy may have a protective effect for the prevention of CHD, even if blood Phe is elevated. The rate of microcephaly and CHD may be reduced if nutrient intake is optimal while attempting to control blood Phe levels.

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December 2003

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