A large body of evidence supports the concept that human pregnancy outcome is significantly influenced by the nutritional status of the mother. The consumption of "poor diets" has been associated with an increased risk for pregnancy complications, including gross structural birth defects, prematurity, low birth weight, and an increased risk for neurobehavioral and immunological abnormalities after birth. Forty-four years ago, zinc deficiency in mammals was shown to be teratogenic. Maternal zinc deficiency produces effects ranging from infertility and embryo/fetal death, to intrauterine growth retardation and teratogenesis. Postnatal complications of maternal zinc deficiency can also occur, and include behavioral abnormalities, impaired immunocompetence, and an elevated risk for high blood pressure in the offspring. It has been suggested that developmental zinc deficiency in humans can present a significant challenge to the conceptus, increasing the risk for numerous defects. Developmental zinc deficiency can occur through multiple pathways, and the concept that acute phase response-induced changes in maternal zinc metabolism may be a common cause of embryonic and fetal zinc deficiency is presented. Potential mechanisms underlying the teratogenic effects of zinc deficiency are reviewed. The potential value of maternal zinc supplementation in high risk pregnancies is discussed.
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