A micronutrient-fortified beverage can prevent iron deficiency, reduce anaemia and improve the haemoglobin concentration of pregnant women in the developing world, say researchers.
Maternal malnutrition continues to be a major contributor to adverse reproductive outcomes in developing countries, despite longstanding efforts to fortify foods or to distribute medicinal supplements to pregnant women.
The objective of this study, carried out by the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University in New York in the US, was to test the effect of a micronutrient-fortified beverage containing 11 micronutrients - iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6 and vitamin E - on the haemoglobin, iron and vitamin A status of pregnant women in Tanzania.
A group of 259 pregnant women with gestational ages of 8 to 34 weeks were enrolled in a randomised double-blind controlled trial in which study women received an eight week course of supplementation. Haemoglobin, ferritin and dried blood spot retinol were measured at baseline and at the end of the supplementation period.
According to the scientists' findings the supplement resulted in a 4.16 grams/litre increase in haemoglobin concentration and a three micrograms/litre increase in ferritin - a protein which occurs in the liver and spleen, that contains iron and plays a part in the storage of iron in the body.
As a result the scientists reported a reduction in the risk of anaemia and iron deficiency anaemia by 51 and 56 per cent, respectively. The risk of iron deficiency was reduced by 70 per cent among those who had iron deficiency at baseline and by 92 per cent among those who had adequate stores.
The scientists therefore believe that the micronutrient-fortified beverage may be a useful and convenient preventative measure, one that could help improve the nutritional status of women both before and during pregnancy and thereby help avoid some of the potential maternal and foetal consequences of micronutrient deficiencies.
Also involved in the study were the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and the Procter & Gamble Company, Cincinnati, Ohio in the US. Full results of the study can be found in the May 2003 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.