Giving women vitamin A capsules did not save their lives or the lives of their new babies, according to a surprising study from Ghana reported by the medical journal Lancet.
The results contradicted an earlier study in Nepal that showed a huge drop in deaths among child-bearing women taking vitamin A, and disappointed experts who hoped pills could be a cheap, easy lifesaver. Scientists did establish in the 1980s that giving vitamin A to malnourished children prevented stunting and deaths from measles and diarrhea.
The 1999 study in Nepal suggested the vitamin also saved young mothers, although that result was regarded somewhat skeptically because so many of the women had died of unrelated causes, including burns, drowning, snakebite and hanging.
Writing in a Lancet commentary, Anthony Costello and David Osrin of the global health institute of University College London noted that the new study recruited an "astonishing" number of women—nearly 208,000 in more than 1,000 villages or family compounds.
Half got a weekly low dose of vitamin A, and half got a placebo. Few in either group died, but the vitamin also did not reduce hospitalization for childbirth complications. Nor did it reduce stillbirths or deaths of newborns. Recent trials in Bangladesh and Indonesia had similar results.
Finding ways to get more food to young women might be more effective than getting them vitamin pills, the commentary's authors said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun