vitamin A

A recent study of 8-year old children in rural Bangladesh examined the effects of vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy and infancy on gross motor and cognitive development, as well as scholastic success.  While prenatal and infant vitamin A supplementation were not linked to higher overall intelligence or motor skills, the children that received supplementation both in utero and as babies demonstrated higher academic achievement as school-age children.


Vitamin A supplementation during infancy has been known to decrease infant mortality rates.  Inversely, vitamin A deficiency induced in laboratory animals has been associated with abnormal behavioral conditions and decreased mental focus.  In humans, however, neurodevelopmental implications of vitamin A supplementation are not well studied.

A new study by Hasmot Ali and colleagues in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed a cohort of 8-year olds that had participated in 2 prior double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized trials.  The previous studies looked at children who received vitamin A supplementation during pregnancy (though their mothers), as newborns, and both, versus those receiving placebo.  Of the initial 1,803 participants in the study, 1,578 were able to complete follow-up 8 years later.  The investigators sought to determine what, if any, effect vitamin A supplementation may have had on their cognitive development, motor skills, and academic achievement.

The mothers of the children were asked to fill out various questionnaires and to participate in formal interviews to determine socioeconomic and demographic factors. Cognitive assessments were administered by psychological evaluators using the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence and the NEuroPSYchological Assessment.  Gross motor skills were evaluated using the Movement Assessment Battery for Children.  Locally utilized tests for writing, reading and math were used to assess the children’s academic abilities.

While vitamin A supplementation was not found to have any detrimental effects, it did not appear to positively affect overall intelligence, memory function or motor skill development.  However, students who had received vitamin A supplementation both in utero and as infants demonstrated significantly higher scores on reading and spelling tests compared to their other cohort peers.  Not only did the researchers have their questions answered, they also were able to revisit the initial study’s objectives.  Newborn vitamin A supplementation was determined to reduce infant mortality rates by 15%.  While prenatal supplementation was not found to reduce maternal mortality rates, it was found to decrease the occurrence of bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy and postpartum.  This study offers evidential support for much needed public health incentives promoting vitamin A supplementation prenatally and during infancy throughout South Asia.


Written By: Allison Pitman Sevillano, MS,PT,DPT

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