Study: Vit A Supplementation and Immunoresponse During Pregnancy

Hello Food Digest readers!

I recently came across a study discussing the connection between vitamin A supplimentation. immunoresponses, and pregnancy that I felt was well worth sharing for consideration.

The nutrition journal was entitled ‘Vitamin A supplementation increases ratios of proinflammatory to anti-inflammatory cytokine responses in pregnancy and lactation’. Here they are discussing possible vitamin A nutrition therapies and how they might impact the immunoresponse of pregnant women who have been found to be vitamin A deficient. Initially, the article lays some ground work by explaining that a vitamin A deficiency is associated with alterations in the balance of type I (proinflammatory) and type II (anti-inflammatory) cytokine responses of the immune system, and that these alterations have the potential to make the body more susceptible to infections. It then highlights for us that this kind of immunocompromise is an especially sensitive topic during pregnancy because of the delicate balance between the type I and type II immune response which exists during this time. An imbalance either way can be detrimental. For example excessive proinflammatory immune responses could “damage the placentia leading to placential insufficiency, premature delivery and/or low birth weight babies”; or on the other had excessive anti-inflammatory immune responses can make the mother and fetus vulnerable to infections (especially, the article notes, in third world countries where vitamin A deficiencies and infectious threats are so high risk!). This second example would be especially concerning in certain regions like Africa where the threat of infectious disease such as Malaria are realistic threats and where the need for a proactive immune system during pregnancy is even more imperative.

The study in the article took a group of first time pregnant women who were vitamin A deficient and in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial gave half of the group vitamin A supplementation and half a placebo in order to observe immuno related outcomes. Ultimately they found that the ratio of IFN-y (proinflammatory cytokine) to IL-10 (anti-inflammatory cytokine) was “significantly higher in the vitamin A supplemented group compared to the placebo group in late pregnancy and at postpartom” (61% and 57%). In other words, the results of this study suggest that vitamin A supplementation does ‘tip the balance’ of cytokine responses in the proinflammatory direction, rather than the direction of the anti-inflammatory immunoresponse, allowing for a stronger fight against infection. With that said the article heeded caution and another reminder that this increase in ‘proinflammatory cytokines’ (via. vitamin A supplementation) could be both potentially beneficial and harmful depending on the case; but possibly most beneficial in groups with higher proinflammatory needs.

What we can conclude from this is that vitamin A supplementation therapies may be an especially appropriate nutrition intervention for pregnant women of low-income countries more vulnerable to infectious disease (such as women in Africa with the threat of Malaria, as previously mentioned). It is a low-cost readily available option, which has the potential to better support these specific groups of women when they are in need of it the most.

Another perfect example of why nutrition therapy  should never be generalized.  A specific group, often needs a specific therapy, for a specific reason.  Easy to forget, important to remember.

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