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Anisa Arsenault
Assistant Editor

Study: Natural Substance Protects Against Preterm Birth

Researchers just discovered a substance that protects against preterm labor — and your body naturally produces it.

The team at UT Southwestern Medical Center identified hyaluronon (HA) as the protective substance. And while it's found in tissue throughout your body — in your skin, joints and even eyes — it doesn't guarantee a full-term labor; it only protects against premature births caused by infection.

"We found that HA is required to allow the epithelial lining of the reproductive tract to serve as the first line of defense against bacterial infections," says senior author Dr. Mala Mahendroo. An easier way to understand it? HA protects your cervix from the types of bacterial infection that lead to early labor.

Doctors have long thought that HA increases the cervix's flexibility during the birthing process. But this new study, published in Journal of Clinical Investigation, is the first to discover the barrier role it plays against infection in the lower reproductive tract.

If you're wondering how you can up your levels of hyaluronon and boost your full-term labor odds, well, don't get ahead of yourself. For researchers, the next step is determining exactly how HA protects the cervix; right now, they just know that it does.

PHOTO: Thinkstock