Vitamin C and E supplements do not prevent pre-eclampsia in pregnant women at risk

EMBARGO: 00:01H (London time) Thursday March 30, 2006. In North America the embargo lifts at 18:30H ET Wednesday March 29, 2006.

Vitamin C and E supplements do not lower the risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnant women with a high chance of developing the condition, according to the results of a randomised trial published online today (Thursday March 30, 2006) by The Lancet. The study also found that vitamin C and E supplements might increase the rate of low birthweight babies.

In 1999, results of a small randomised trial suggested that vitamin C and E could reduce the incidence of pre-eclampsia in pregnant women (See Lancet 1999; 354: 810-816). In the latest trial, Lucilla Poston, Andrew Shennan and colleagues from King's College London, UK investigated the effect of the supplements in a much larger group of women who were at risk of pre-eclampsia from a wide range of different clinical conditions.

The investigators recruited over 2400 women at high risk of pre-eclampsia from 25 hospitals in the UK. Half were assigned 1000mg of vitamin C and 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin E and half placebo daily from the second trimester of pregnancy until delivery. They found that the incidence of pre-eclampsia was similar in both groups (15% vs 16%). The investigators also found that more low birthweight babies were born to women who took the supplements when compared with those on placebo (28% vs 24%). Women receiving the supplements also needed more treatment, including steroids, antihypertensive medication, and magnesium sulphate (to prevent fits). However, there was no evidence that women taking normal pregnancy multivitamin preparations increased the risk of low birthweight babies or caused any harm.

Professor Poston states: "Although we gave high doses of vitamin C and vitamin E to participants in this trial, they were below the maximum recommended intake in pregnant womenOur findings of an increase in low birthweight and an increased need for treatment, without any benefit in regard to pre-eclampsia suggest contraindication of these high doses of vitamin C and vitamin E in pregnancy. There was however no evidence that taking the small doses of vitamins in pregnancy specific multivitamin preparations gave any cause for concern.'' (Quote by e-mail; does not appear in published paper)

See also accompanying Comment.

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Contact: Professor Lucilla Poston, Tommy's the baby Charity Professor of Maternal and Fetal Health, Division of Reproductive Health, Endocrinology and Development, King's College London. T) 0207 188 3644/3639 / 07976 766026 (mobile) lucilla.poston@kcl.ac.uk

Notes to editors
Pre-eclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder of pregnancy.

The vitamins used in this trial are not the same as folic acid supplementation, which is recommended in the UK prior to conception and in early pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects.


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