Yet more evidence has emerged of the importance of women's nutrition in their having healthy babies.
Researchers in Hungary conducted a study of 4156 women. Some of them were given a multivitamin, including 0.8mg of folic acid, or a tablet of trace elements to take each day for at least one month before conception and for two months afterwards.
They concluded: "The rate of all major congenital abnormalities was significantly lower in the group given vitamins than in the group given trace elements." The difference could not be explained simply by the well documented effect of the folic acid on reducing neural tube defects like spina bifida. The rate of other types of major congenital abnormalities in the vitamin group was 9 per thousand births, compared with 16.6 per thousand for the trace element group.
The vitamin tablet was made up of 12 vitamins (vitamin A at either 6000 or 4000 IU, B1 1.6mg, B2 1.8mg, nicotinamide 10mg, B6 2.6mg, calcium pantothenate 10mg, biotin 0.2mg, B12 4ug, C 100mg, D 500 IU, E 15mg, phosphorous 125mg, magnesium 100mg, iron 60mg), and three trace elements (copper 1mg, manganese 1mg, zinc 7.5mg). The trace element supplement contained copper 1mg, manganese 1mg, zinc 7.5mg and vitamin C 7.5mg. BMJ 19 June 1993.
A study in New Zealand confirms that it is not just unborn babies but those at the other end of the age spectrum who also benefit from nutritional supplements. Researchers in New Zealand showed just how effective supplements of calcium are at slowing bone loss. They looked at 122 normal women who were at least three years' past their menopause with a mean intake of dietary calcium of 750mg a day. They were randomly assigned either 1000mg calcium a day or a placebo for two years. The bone mineral density of the total body, lumbar spine and upper thigh bone was measured every six months.
They found that those taking calcium had on average 43 per cent less reduction in total body bone mineral density compared with the placebo group. The rate of loss in the legs was reduced by 35 per cent, and eliminated all together in the trunk.