From The June 1999 Issue of Nutrition Science News
Just how critical is basic nutrition? One study shows certain vitamins mean life or death for malnourished pregnant women in southern Nepal, where beta-carotene and vitamin A supplementation nearly halved maternal deaths.
The 3.5-year study led by Keith West, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, included more than 20,000 pregnant women in 270 rural villages. The women were given weekly supplements of 42 mg beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor), 7,000 mcg retinol equivalents of vitamin A, or placebo. The RDA for vitamin A is 1,000 mcg.
Women taking the supplements had a much greater chance of surviving the pregnancy and newborn periods. Beta-carotene reduced mothers' deaths by 49 percent; vitamin A lowered the rate by 40 percent.
Fewer obstetrical problems accounted for a 27 percent drop in the death rate among women using supplementsespecially those taking beta-carotene, which in low levels is associated with increased risk of eclampsia and placental tearing. Infection-related deaths were also reduced by at least 22 percent among women taking the supplements.
These results show that even modest supplementation can have a major effect in developing nations because deaths of pregnant women there are often 50 to 100 times higher than in industrialized countries. Women who are considering becoming pregnant, however, should not use vitamin A without medical advice; high doses of vitamin A as retinol have been linked to birth defects.
Double blind, cluster randomised trial of low dose supplementation with vitamin A or beta carotene on mortality related to pregnancy in Nepal. The NNIPS-2 Study Group.
British Medical Journal 1999 (Feb 27); 318 (7183): 570-575