Regular vitamin A supplements to children with recognized deficiencies or undernutrition will substantially prevent them dying from diarrhoea or a variety of infections.
This was the conclusion of a study of l5,4l9 preschool age children in India with a vitamin A deficiency, half of whom received vitamin A (8333IU daily) and E, and the other half, vitamin E alone.Of the l25 deaths which occurred in the total population, less than half were in the group treated with vitamin A. Most of the deaths were due to diarrhoea, convulsions and other "infection related symptoms".
This study followed another highly respected study, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine article, which showed that the complications and deaths from measles were significantly reduced when vitamin A was given to children suffering from the illness.
The results of this study, performed in Africa, did not jibe with those of a similar test in India. "Perhaps the bolus dose is critical, or the low dose of vitamin A in the India study did not provide adequate nutrient stores to meet the increased needs during acute measles and thus make a difference in outcome," said the editorial.
Dr T Gerald Keusch of Boston's New England Medical Center went on to say that vitamin A ought to be administered to children whenever there is evidence of vitamin A deficiency or an excess of measles deaths. The New England Journal of Medicine, 4 October 1990.
These results have come at a time when vitamin A has suffered a recent bashing in the media after the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food announced that a small portion of liver could contain between 4 and l2 times the maximum recommended daily intake during pregnancy. According to The Lancet, this hazard resulted from a single report of birth defects in a child whose mother followed a "highly abnormal diet". "Analysis of birth defects monitoring data in England and Wales shows no evidence of any recent change in the low incidence of those birth defects which might be caused by vitamin A," said the journal. Supplements containing 400-l250 ug vitamin A, given under medical supervision to pregnant women are considered safe.
Furthermore, the Department of Health advises any pregnant woman who stops eating iron-rich liver to increase her iron stores by concentrating on lean red meat and meat products, fortified breakfast cereals, bread and vegetables.