Supplements boost health of mothers and their babies, study shows

Taking a multiple micronutrient supplement during pregnancy may improve the health of pregnant women and their babies, according to the results of a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled trial published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

The study by researchers at the Institute of Brain Chemistry & Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University and the Homerton University Hospital involved more than 400 newly pregnant women from east London, 72 per cent of whom had low levels of vitamin D in their blood, 13 per cent of whom were anaemic and 12 per cent of whom were thiamin deficient. Nutrient status was measured at recruitment, 26 and 34 weeks gestation.

The results indicated that women taking Vitabiotics Pregnacare-branded supplements during the trial rather than a placebo benefited from an improvement in nutrient status, with markers of iron, folate, thiamin and vitamin D status all higher during the third trimester in the vitamin group, and a reduction in numbers of small-for-gestational-age infants (low birth weight for time of birth).

Louise Brough, the lead researcher, said: "This research highlights the concerning fact that a number of women, even in the developed world, are lacking in important nutrients during pregnancy. It also demonstrates the benefit of taking a multiple micronutrient supplement such as Pregnacare from early pregnancy. It is especially important to have good nutrient levels during early pregnancy as this is a critical time for development of the foetus. Nutrient deficiencies are correctable and they may influence birth outcomes."

The incidence of low birth weight babies in the UK is worse than any Western European country, even worse than Cuba and on a par with Romania, according to UNICEF figures. When data was gathered for the whole country in 1973 it was 6.6 per cent, while in 2005 it was 8 per cent.

Brough said: "A baby's health can be adversely affected if it is too small at birth, both in early and later life. Being small for gestational age implies intra-uterine growth restriction and a degree of poor foetal nutrition. This study shows that supplementing with a specific multivitamin supplement may help to reduce this. Although the numbers are small, the data is statistically significant and consistent with what is known about maternal-foetal nutrition and justifies a larger study."

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