Vitamin A for mum may boost lung function in kids: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Lung function

Supplements of vitamin A during pregnancy may improve lung function in infants by about 3 per cent, according to a new study from the US.

Ensuring an adequate vitamin A intake amongst pregnant women in a population with chronic vitamin A deficiency led to improved lung function in the children, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine​.

Children of mothers who received beta-carotene supplements did not experience any benefits, relative to placebo, however.

“The greater bioefficacy of preformed vitamin A as compared with beta carotene may stem from differences in absorption and metabolism,”​ explained the researchers, led by William Checkley, MD, PhD from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“The lower bioefficacy of the beta-carotene supplement as a source of vitamin A in the mothers and their offspring in our trial was also evident in the finding that serum retinol concentrations in mothers at mid-pregnancy and post partum and in their infants at 3 months of age were lower among those in the beta-carotene group than they were among those in the preformed–vitamin A group,”​ they added.

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. The World Bank has declared vitamin A supplementation as one of the most cost-effective interventions of all time.

Study details

Checkley and his co-workers analysed lung function in 1,371 Nepalese children aged between 9 and 13 whose mothers had taken part in a placebo-controlled, double-blind, cluster-randomized trial of vitamin A or beta-carotene supplementation between 1994 and 1997.

Using a portable pneumatochometer, the researchers found that children whose mothers received vitamin A instead of a placebo had a 46 millilitres higher forced expiratory volume at one second (FEV1) and a 14 ml higher forced vital capacity (FVC), compared with children whose mothers received beta-carotene and placebo.

“Lung function of offspring in mothers who received maternal vitamin A supplementation improved by about 40 ml versus those whose mothers received a placebo,”​ said Checkley. “This represents an approximately 3 per cent increase in lung function. Furthermore, the magnitude of effect observed in this study is slightly greater than that associated with preventing exposure to parental smoking in school-age children.”

“Improved lung function was likely specific to supplementation received in utero because this population of children was subsequently exposed beyond six months of age to semiannual vitamin A supplementation with high coverage as part of a national program during their preschool years,”​ said co-author Keith West from the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health.

“This benefit was limited to children whose mothers received vitamin A and not to those whose mothers received beta-carotene. Early interventions with vitamin A in communities where undernutrition is highly prevalent may have long-lasting consequences in lung health.”

Source: New England Journal of Medicine
May 2010, Volume 362, Number 19, Pages 1784-
“Maternal Vitamin A Supplementation and Lung Function in Offspring”
Authors: W. Checkley, K.P. West, R.A. Wise, M.R. Baldwin, L. Wu, S.C. LeClerq, P. Christian, J. Katz, J.M. Tielsch, S. Khatry, A. Sommer

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