Multivitamins during Pregnancy May Prevent Childhood Cancers

Healthnotes Newswire (August 9, 2007)—Nearly 10,000 children under age 15 are diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. But a new study published in Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics suggests that taking multivitamins containing folic acid during pregnancy may help prevent the most common childhood cancers including leukemia (cancer of the blood stream and/or bone marrow), brain tumors, and neuroblastoma (tumors that grow in the nervous system).

The study’s authors reviewed 61 articles to assess the effect of multivitamins taken during pregnancy on several childhood cancers and found seven studies suitable for their research. Results of their review showed that the children of women who used multivitamins containing folic acid during pregnancy had an 18% decreased risk for brain tumors, a 47% decreased risk for neuroblastoma, and a 36% decreased risk for leukemia compared with children whose mothers did not take multivitamins during pregnancy. Based on the available data, the authors estimate that supplementing with multivitamins during pregnancy may prevent 900 cases of childhood leukemia and more than 300 cases of childhood brain tumors per year in the United States.

It has previously been shown that women who take folic acid during pregnancy reduce the risk of their child having birth defects and neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy. The protective effects of multivitamins against the development of childhood cancers may be due to the folic acid, but it may also be due to other vitamins and minerals present in the multivitamin or to differences in diet and lifestyle between women who do and do not take multivitamins.

If a woman is pregnant or in her childbearing years she should talk with her physician about using multivitamins as a preventive measure for general health, childhood cancers, and birth defects. “The present cumulative evidence suggests a protective effect [against childhood cancers], in addition to the protective effects against birth defects,” said Gideon Koren, MD, author of the study, director of the Motherisk Program, Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, and a professor at the University of Toronto. “Hence it is logical and prudent to encourage women to use these micronutrients to decrease the likelihood of early pediatric cancer too.”

Women who start taking multivitamins before or early in pregnancy may have less risk for their children developing birth defects and cancer compared with women who start taking multivitamins at a later point in their pregnancy.

(Clin Pharmacol Ther 2007;81,5:685–91)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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