If every pregnant woman worldwide took vitamin and mineral supplements, there would be 1.5 million fewer babies born at low birth weights every year, researchers said.

Dr. Prakesh S. Shah, of the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said women should start taking vitamin and mineral supple ents as soon as they know they are pregnant.

Shah and his team reviewed 13 published trials conducted in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. The number of micronutrients women received in the various studies ranged from 8 to 28.

Compared with women who took a placebo, women who took multimicronutrients were 19 percent less likely to have a low birth weight baby. When compared with women taking iron and folic acid only, the researchers found the multimicronutrient users had a 17 percent lower risk of having a low birth weight baby.

Babies born to women taking multimicronutrient supplements weighed 54 grams (about two ounces) more, on average, than babies born to women taking iron and folic acid alone.

However, multimicronutrient supplements didn't appear to affect the risk of preterm birth or infants who were "small-for-gestational-age."

In an interview, Shah said that certain nutrients, in certain amounts, stood out as being the most important: vitamin A (2,640 IU), vitamin D (200 IU), vitamin E (10 milligrams), vitamin B1 (1.4 milligrams), folic acid (400 micrograms), vitamin C (70 milligrams), zinc (15 milligrams) and iron (30 milligrams).

Low birth weight infants -- those born weighing less than 2.5 kilograms (about 5.5 pounds) --face a greater risk of health problems that extends into adulthood, Shah said.

They are more vulnerable to infections as infants, more likely to have developmental problems in childhood, and at greater risk of diabetes and high blood pressure as adults.

Giving pregnant women these vitamins and minerals most likely prevents babies from gaining too little weight by improving their nutrition, strengthening a woman's immune system, and reducing fetal growth restriction, Shah said.

Shah, who published the findings in the journal CMAJ, said the World Health Organization should recommend multimicronutrients, not just iron and folic acid, for all pregnant women.

"It is important that we implement this change."

"Maternal undernutrition is one of the most neglected aspects of nutrition in public health globally," Zulfiqar A. Bhutta and Batool Azra Haider, of The Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, said in an editorial in the journal.

NEW YORK, June 9 (Reuters Life!)


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