Vitamin A Boosts Infant Lung Function

Better Function

A new study suggests that moms-to-be may boost their infants' lung function by around 3% if they take vitamin A supplements during their pregnancies. These findings came about as physicians prescribed supplements of vitamin A to some pregnant women who lived in a population suffering from chronic deficiencies of vitamin A while others were given beta-carotene supplements or a placebo. The infants born to the moms who took the vitamin A supplements had better lung function. A report on these findings has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Better Absorption

The babies of the mothers who were given the beta-carotene supplements didn't seem to accrue any true benefits at all. "The greater bio-efficacy of preformed vitamin A as compared with beta-carotene may stem from differences in absorption and metabolism," said the report, which was authored by William Checkley, MD, PhD from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Lower Levels

The researchers explain that beta-carotene doesn't seem to be useful or efficient a source of vitamin A for mothers or their offspring. When the researchers tested the blood levels of retinol in the moms at mid-gestation and postpartum, and in their 3 month-old infants, those connected to the beta-carotene group had lower levels than did those moms and their infants who had benefited from the straight vitamin A supplements given during pregnancy.

Causes Blindness

According to the World Health Organization, vitamin A deficiency (VAD) troubles more than half of all countries. The problem is particularly bad in South-East Asia and in Africa where it causes 500,000 new cases of blindness in children every year. Vitamin A supplements have been declared by the World Bank to be among the least expensive health care interventions in all of history.

Checkley's team examined 1,371 Nepalese children between the ages of 9 and 13, assessing them for lung function. Their mothers have been participants in the study, having received beta-carotene, a placebo, or vitamin A supplements during the years 1994-1997.

When the children were tested with the help of a portable pneumatochometer, it was found that the children of those mothers who had been given vitamin A had a higher forced expiratory volume at one second (FEV1) by 46 milliliters. They also had a higher forced vital capacity (FVC) by 14 milliliters when checked against those children who mothers had been given the beta-carotene or the placebo.

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