Vitamin A could save hundreds of thousands of children

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Vitamin A supplements could significantly reduce child mortality

Vitamin A supplements could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in developing and emerging countries, British and Pakistani researchers report in the British Medical Journal.

In a comprehensive overview study, the scientists evaluated the data from 43 studies on the effects of vitamin A, in which more than 200,000 children between the ages of six months and five years were involved. In their meta-analysis, the researchers led by Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta from the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi (Pakistan) came to the conclusion that child mortality in developing and emerging countries could be reduced by 24 percent with vitamin A supplements. According to the scientists, this would correspond to a number of 600,000 children per year who could be saved by an adequate supply of vitamin A.

According to Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta and colleagues, the signs of the benefits of vitamin A supplements in poorer countries are so "clear" that use on site should begin immediately. Children in developing and emerging countries must be provided with appropriate vitamin A supplements immediately without wasting time on further studies, because the evidence for the life-saving effectiveness of the preparations has long been available, explained Professor Bhutta. In addition, the vitamin A supplements are relatively inexpensive and have hardly any side effects, the expert continues. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 190 million children under the age of five are estimated to have vitamin A deficiency worldwide. The health effects caused by this range from dry skin, hair loss, vision problems and night blindness to an increased susceptibility to infection to anemia, heart disease and an increased risk of cancer. Fertility disorders are also a possible consequence of the vitamin deficiency, also known as hypovitaminosis. In addition, growth disorders occur relatively frequently in children who take too little vitamin A.

Since vitamin A cannot be produced by the organism, people have to ingest these vital nutrients with their food. The actual daily requirement depends on age, gender and individual living conditions. According to the experts, the recommended daily amount for adults is between 0.8 and 1.0 milligrams on average. Vitamin A can be contained in food either directly as such or in the form of so-called carotenes (provitamin A), which are converted into vitamin A by the body. For example, chicken or beef liver, butter and egg yolk have a relatively high vitamin A content. Carrots, pumpkins, kale and spinach contain a relatively large amount of provitamin A. (fp)

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Picture: Dr. Leonora Schwarz /

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