Objective To test the hypothesis that a relative deficiency in L-arginine, the substrate for synthesis of the vasodilatory gas nitric oxide, may be associated with the development of pre-eclampsia in a population at high risk.
Design Randomised, blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial.
Setting Tertiary public hospital in Mexico City.
Participants Pregnant women with a history of a previous pregnancy complicated by pre-eclampsia, or pre-eclampsia in a first degree relative, and deemed to be at increased risk of recurrence of the disease were studied from week 14-32 of gestation and followed until delivery.
Interventions Supplementation with a medical food—bars containing L-arginine plus antioxidant vitamins, antioxidant vitamins alone, or placebo—during pregnancy.
Main outcome measure Development of pre-eclampsia/eclampsia.
Results 222 women were allocated to the placebo group, 228 received L-arginine plus antioxidant vitamins, and 222 received antioxidant vitamins alone. Women had 4-8 prenatal visits while receiving the bars. The incidence of pre-eclampsia was reduced significantly (χ2=19.41; P<0.001) in women randomised to L-arginine plus antioxidant vitamins compared with placebo (absolute risk reduction 0.17 (95% confidence interval 0.12 to 0.21). Antioxidant vitamins alone showed an observed benefit, but this effect was not statistically significant compared with placebo (χ2=3.76; P=0.052; absolute risk reduction 0.07, 0.005 to 0.15). L-arginine plus antioxidant vitamins compared with antioxidant vitamins alone resulted in a significant effect (P=0.004; absolute risk reduction 0.09, 0.05 to 0.14).
Conclusions Supplementation during pregnancy with a medical food containing L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins reduced the incidence of pre-eclampsia in a population at high risk of the condition. Antioxidant vitamins alone did not have a protective effect for prevention of pre-eclampsia. Supplementation with L-arginine plus antioxidant vitamins needs to be evaluated in a low risk population to determine the generalisability of the protective effect, and the relative contributions of L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins to the observed effects of the combined treatment need to be determined.
Trial registration Clinical trials NCT00469846.