Vitamin A Could Save A Million Children Annually

December 10, 2010

A Cochrane review on 215,000 children and synthetic vitamin A supplementation.

Cochrane researchers on Wednesday published findings indicating just how many deaths proper vitamin A supplementation might prevent in middle and low-income families across the globe.

Using a widespread analysis of synthetic vitamin A supplementation and risk of mortality, the review pulled results from 215,633 children, ages six months to five years, across 19 countries.

Researchers concluded that, after one year, children with adequate intake of vitamin A were 24% less likely to die, compared to placebo. Incidence of diarrhea and measles morbidity was also significantly lowered with vitamin A.

The Cochrane review included 43 randomized controlled trials and excluded those focusing on the effects of food fortification and vitamin A-rich foods or beta-carotene supplementation. Children who were hospitalized or who carried disease or infection were also pulled from the analysis.

Vitamin A deficiency affects an estimated 190 million children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization.

Evan Mayo Wilson, a department lecturer at the Center for Evidence-Based Interventions at the University of Oxford, discussed the significance of the findings in a Cochrane podcast:

“There were some differences in the size of the benefits across trials, but even if vitamin A reduces child deaths by only 10%, this would be a large and important effect. In high risk areas, our findings mean that vitamin A could reduce the number of deaths from nine to seven in every one hundred children. If vitamin A supplements were given to all children who don’t get enough at the moment, this could prevent nearly 1 million deaths every year.”

One disconcerting result of the analysis showed that vitamin A supplementation increased risk of vomiting, 48 hours post-supplementation. Mayo-Wilson notes that smaller doses of vitamin A might be better tolerated than the large doses provided in some of these trials.

To read the full abstract at the Cochrane Collaboration, click here.