Expectant mothers may be at risk of vitamin A deficiency

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Vitamin a, Vitamin a deficiency

Women expecting twins or their second child inside two years are at
an increased risk of vitamin A deficiency and could benefit from
beta-carotene supplementation, says a study based in Germany.

The new study, funded by BASF, looked at vitamin A and beta-carotene status is the serum, cord blood and colostrums (breast milk produced during the last few days of pregnancy and first few days after birth) in 23 women with high socio-economic status giving birth for the second time inside two years, and six women expecting twins.

The researchers behind the new study, from BioTeSys GmbH, the University Gynaecological Hospital Ulm, and the University of Hohenheim, report that only four of the 29 women studied had recommended vitamin A intakes during breastfeeding.

"This work is important since it shows that suboptimal vitamin A supply (and risk of vitamin A deficiency) is not only a problem in developing countries but also occurs in western populations (here: example Germany),"​ lead author Christiane Schulz fromBioTeSys GmbH told NutraIngredients.com.

"We need appropriate tools for the identification of risk groups. If identified, supplementation recommendations need to be derived,"​ she said.

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a public health problem in more than 50 per cent of all countries, especially in Africa and South-East Asia, according to the World Health Organisation, and causes blindness in up to 500,000 children each year.

Vitamin A during pregnancy is essential for the development of lungs in the foetus and foetal maturation, but vitamin A-rich foods such as liver are discouraged because very high levels are presumed to lead to birth defects. Therefore, consumption of provitamin A (i.e. beta-carotene) is encouraged in order to avoid excess intake of vitamin A and the resulting negative health implications.

"It is important that beta-carotene is contained in pregnant women's daily diet, either from beta-carotene-rich vegetables or from functional foods which have been fortified with beta-carotene,"​ said Schulz.

The study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition​, reports that 75 per cent of the women did not have the recommended daily intakes of 1.1 milligrams of vitamin A equivalents during pregnancy, based on food frequency questionnaire quantification of intakes. During breastfeeding, 68 per cent still failed to meet the requirements.

Analysis of plasma levels of retinol (vitamin A) showed that 28 per cent of the women had levels below 1.4 micromoles per litre, meaning that these women were borderline deficient.

Moreover, 46 per cent of the women failed to even consume two-thirds that of the RDA for retinol.

"This is a surprisingly high percentage of women at risk, particularly in light of the moderate to high socio-economic status and good nutritional status in this group of apparently healthy women,"​ wrote the researchers.

The total carotenoid intake was relatively high (average 6.9 milligrams per day), but one-fifth of the women still had relatively low beta-carotene levels (less than 0.5 micromoles per litre).

"Despite the fact that vitamin A and beta-carotene-rich food is generally available, risk groups for low vitamin A supply exist in the western world,"​ said the researchers.

The risk groups are not limited to giving birth for the second time inside two years, and six women expecting twins, said Schulz, but that other groups potentially at risk include vegetarians, especially vegans, as vitamin A is only present in food of animal origin, she said, as well as the elderly with advanced age.

Source: European Journal of Nutrition​ Published on-line 10 November 2006. doi: 10.1007/s00394-006-0624-9 "Vitamin A and beta-carotene supply of women with Gemini or short birth intervals"​ Authors: C. Schulz, U. Engel, R. Kreienberg, H.K. Biesalski

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