The results of a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled trial published in the British Journal of Nutrition show that taking a multiple micronutrient supplement (Vitabiotics Pregnacare tablets) during pregnancy may improve the health of pregnant women and their babies. The collaborative study of over 400 newly pregnant women was carried out by the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University and the Homerton University Hospital.

Women taking the multiple micronutrient supplements during the trial rather than the placebo benefited from:

    Improvement in nutrient status relative to the placebo. Markers of iron, folate, thiamin and vitamin D status were all higher during the third trimester in the vitamin group

    A reduction in numbers of small-for-gestational-age (SGA) infants (low birth weight for time of birth) relative to the placebo. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first reporting of clinical findings in a study performed in either the UK or developed world showing that supplementing with a specific multivitamin supplement may help reduce the number of SGA infants born

Of particular note was the effect of the Pregnacare supplement on iron deficiency. The level of iron provided (20 mg per day) was much less than typically prescribed during pregnancy (up to 300mg per day) and yet there was still an improvement in iron levels. As pregnancy progressed iron levels fell, however the decrease was less in those receiving the supplement. In late pregnancy 55 percent of women taking the placebo were anaemic compared to only 36 percent of women taking the supplement. This suggests that even women with good initial iron status may benefit later in pregnancy from low level iron supplementation. It is well known that patients have better tolerance of low dose iron supplements as used in the study, rather than high dose iron supplements. High dose iron supplementation is known to cause mild gastric side effects such as heartburn, nausea, vomiting, constipation and diarrhoea.

Of the 12 percent who were thiamin deficient at recruitment, by 34 weeks of gestation this increased to 32 percent in the placebo group compared to only 20 percent in the treatment group.

The women from East London were recruited from the first trimester of pregnancy. Nutrient status was measured at recruitment, 26 and 34 weeks gestation. The study showed that the multiple micronutrient supplements may improve infant health by reducing the number of infants born small for gestational age.

This study is the first double blind, randomised and controlled trial of multiple-micronutrient supplementation from the first trimester of pregnancy in a socially deprived, multiethnic population within a developed country.


Notes to Editors

·         L Brough, GA Rees, MA Crawford, RH Morton, EK Dorman (2010)Effect of multiple-micronutrient supplementation on maternal nutrientstatus, infant birth weight and gestational age at birth in a low-income, multi-ethnic population. British Journal of Nutrition

·         Dr Louise Brough is currently a Lecturer in Human Nutrition based at Massey University, New Zealand.

·         Dr Gail Rees is currently based at theSchoolofBiological Sciencesat theUniversity of Plymouth.

·         This study was supported with funding provided by the Mother and Child Foundation