Vitamin A prevents disease/death in young children

December 15, 2010

A new Cochrane meta-analysis shows that giving vitamin A capsules to children from 6 months to 5 years of age reduces deaths as well as the incidence of certain illnesses.

 

A new Cochrane meta-analysis shows that giving vitamin A capsules to children from 6 months to 5 years of age reduces deaths as well as the incidence of certain illnesses. Vitamin A deficiency, which causes a significant public health problem in low- and middle-income countries, predisposes children to a range of problems, including respiratory diseases, diarrhea, measles, vision problems-and even death.

Researchers included in their investigation 43 randomized trials enrolling 215,633 children that evaluated the effect of synthetic vitamin A supplementation. Studies concerned with hospitalized children and children with disease or infection, as well as those evaluating the effects of food fortification, consumption of vitamin A-rich foods, or beta-carotene supplementation were excluded. Investigators carried out meta-analyses for all-cause and cause-specific mortality, disease, vision, adverse effects, and other outcomes.

One of these meta-analyses was of all-cause mortality in 17 trials enrolling a total of 194,795 children, of whom 3,536-some supplemented and some not-died. Children who received vitamin A supplementation had a 24% overall reduced risk of death compared with children who did not receive the supplements. Of 7 trials reporting mortality from diarrhea, vitamin A supplementation reduced deaths by 28%. Supplementation had no significant effect on cause-specific death because of measles, respiratory infections, or meningitis.

Vitamin A supplementation reduced incidence of diarrhea and measles morbidity but had no significant effect on the incidence or respiratory disease or hospitalizations because of diarrhea or pneumonia. Taking vitamin A raised the risk of vomiting up to 48 hours after supplementation.

Imdad A, Herzer K, Mayo-Wilson E, et al. Vitamin A supplementation for preventing morbidity and mortality in children from 6 months to 5 years of age. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010(12):CD008524.