An adequate intake of micronutrients is vital for the proper development of the fetus and the overall health of the mother, a study conducted by UKZN masters student, Ms Cassandra Soobramoney, has found.
Titled: “Trace Element Analysis of Nails from Normotensive and Pre-eclamptic Black South African Women”, the study aimed to compare the concentrations of 13 different trace elements in nail samples from pre-eclamptic and normotensive women. It also aimed to find a link between trace element concentration and the development of pre-eclampsia.
Trace element deficiency is a causative factor in a number of pregnancy related conditions such as pre-eclampsia. Its greatest impact is in developing countries, where the dietary intake of essential minerals and vitamins are low. ‘However, the effect of these trace elements on the development of pre-eclampsia has not been properly established,’ said Soobramoney.
The study was conducted at UKZN’s Optics and Imaging Centre using nail samples obtained from Black South African normotensive and pre-eclamptic pregnant women voluntarily enrolled in this study.
Nail samples were weighed and processed using the wet acid digestion method. Samples were analysed for zinc, selenium, lead, nickel, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, calcium, cobalt, cadmium, chromium and arsenic using inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectrometry.
The results showed that the concentration of calcium and magnesium in the normotensive group were the highest whilst cobalt and cadmium were the lowest. In the pre-eclamptic group, the concentration of calcium and magnesium were the highest and arsenic and cobalt the lowest.
The overall result showed a significant difference between the normotensive and pre-eclamptic group for cadmium, cobalt and manganese, where by these elements were decreased in preeclamptic patients.
Pre-eclampsia is a global problem and is associated with a high maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality rate. It is particularly prevalent in low income countries such as South Africa and the mechanism by which it occurs has not been properly established.
According to Soobramoney, it is the third leading cause of maternal mortality in South Africa. ‘Nutritional deficiencies are predominant in low income countries and this could impact the elemental concentrations present in pregnant women,’ she said.
She believes her study on women’s health and the etiology of pre-eclampsia can help in the proper management or prevention of pre-eclampsia. ‘More extensive studies on the role of trace elements could lead to it being used as a potential biomarker for pre-eclampsia development,’ she added.
Soobramoney (24) is currently completing her MMedSci at the Optics and Imaging Centre and hopes to submit a paper to a peer-reviewed journal soon.
She is passionate about the world of science and learning. ‘I really enjoyed working on this study as it was enlightening, informative and I had the opportunity to work with some really great people.’
Her future plans include conducting research on HIV and cancer.
She has diverse interests, from trying new recipes for her family to reading her favourite authors’ novels and even watching the latest superhero movie or TV show.
‘My family keep me going. They are my support structure, and my biggest fans. Their love and faith in me never falters and this inspires me every day,’ Soobramoney said.