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Vitamins C, E May Not Cut Preeclampsia

Study Included Healthy Pregnant Women Taking Vitamin C, E Supplements
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WebMD Health News

April 27, 2006 -- A new study questions the usefulness of taking vitamin C and vitamin E supplements to prevent preeclampsia, a form of high blood pressure, in healthy pregnant women.

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, included 1,877 healthy pregnant women who took vitamins C and E or empty pills (placebo) during their pregnancy.

The vitamin group showed no advantages in the risk of preeclampsia, death, or serious outcomes in the infants, or low-birth-weight babies. The results "do not support routine supplementation" with vitamins C and E to reduce those risks, write the researchers. They included Alice Rumbold, PhD, of the obstetrics and gynecology department of Australia's University of Adelaide.

A journal editorial calls those conclusions "reasonable" but notes that supplements may be more beneficial if diets are lower in antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.

About Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia only occurs during pregnancy. It affects 5% of 8% of all pregnancies.

Preeclampsia occurs when a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure along with protein in her urine. Swelling, sudden weight gain, and headaches may also occur. This condition is dangerous for mother and baby alike. It can lead to low-birth-weight babies, preterm birth, and problems with the mother's kidneys, liver, and ability to avoid uncontrolled bleeding. Eclampsia, a life-threatening situation for mother and baby, is preeclampsia with seizures.

Any pregnant woman can get preeclampsia, but a woman is at increased risk of developing the condition if:

  • This is her first pregnancy.
  • Her mother or sister had preeclampsia or eclampsia during pregnancy.
  • She is carrying twins.
  • She is black.
  • She is younger than 20 or older than 40 at the time of pregnancy.
  • She already has high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes.
  • Her body mass index (BMI)is greater than 30 before pregnancy.

Vitamin Study

The women in Rumbold's study hadn't given birth before. Each was only carrying one baby. The women had similar backgrounds. Their dietary intake of vitamins C and E was also similar, according to surveys the women completed at the study's start.

Rumbold's team randomly assigned roughly half of the women to the vitamin group. The researchers gave those women daily supplements totaling 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C and 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E (as d-alpha-tocopherol succinate).

No one knew who got the vitamins and who got the placebo. Either way, the women were told to swallow two of the pills in the morning and two in the evening.

Other antioxidant supplements were off limits during the study. But the women were allowed to take daily multivitamins containing up to 200 milligrams of vitamin C or 50 international units of vitamin E.

Study's Results

Most women didn't develop preeclampsiaor other problems covered in the study.

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