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D.iet & H.ealth : C.hildren & W.omen Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00


Taking Vitamin E supplements during pregnancy may be harmful
By John Soltes
Jun 13, 2006, 22:55

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By taking vitamin E supplements during pregnancy, a pregnant woman may inadvertently be doubling the chances of a stillborn, according to a new study by Dr. Andrew Shennan of St. Thomas's Hospital in London.

Shennan and his fellow researchers found that when pregnant women take vitamin E and C supplements during pregnancy, they are "self-medicating" their unborn child. According to the researchers, this not only led to a higher instance of stillbirth, but also health complications and lower birth weights.

Vitamin E (also called tocopherol) is an anti-oxidant which can be taken as a supplement, but it also can be found in many foods, including sunflower seeds, breakfast cereals, broccoli, vegetable oil, and nuts.

The new study comes as a bit of a surprise, since earlier studies pointed to the fact that vitamin E may actually improve chances of not having a still birth or what is called pre-eclampsia. However, this London study, as well as a study recently published in Australia suggest otherwise.

The two-year study included nearly 2,400 women in England. A group of women in the study took vitamin E supplements equaling 250 mg per day. In addition to the Vitamin E, the women also took roughly 1,000 mg of Vitamin C.

The study found those women who did in fact take the vitamin E and C supplements had a higher rate of developing complications (including stillbirths) in their unborn child. In addition to being more frequent, the complications were also more severe in these women who took the supplements.

The weight of the baby at birth from a supplement-taking mother was 60 grams less compared to the women who did not take the supplements. In addition, the women taking vitamin E and C supplements produced 19 stillborn babies, while the non-supplement-taking women produced only seven.

In light of the recent findings, Dr. Stuart Campbell, an obstetrician and researcher on the study, has recommended a warning be placed on all Vitamin E supplements.

"The evidence suggests vitamin E may be harmful in pregnancy and it's therefore wise to avoid it," Campbell said, according to The Daily Mail.

Currently, the government in England (where the study was conducted) only has warnings on Vitamin D supplements.

"Vitamins are deemed to be innocent and good and there is no doubt that pregnant women are out there, self-medicating with these high doses," The Telegraph quoted Shennan as saying. "One woman came to me and she was taking 5g of vitamin E a day. I told her to stop."

A spokesperson from the British Department of Health said there are only two supplements the department recommends: folic acid and vitamin D, but not vitamin E.

Vitamin E is soluble in oils. Vitamin E supplemts can be toxic if a person takes a high dose daily. The safe way to have vitamin E is eating plant foods.

"We advise against vitamin A supplements during pregnancy. We keep all evidence on other vitamin supplementation under review," the spokesperson said, according to The Telegraph.

The study was published the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet.




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