Fri May 30, 2003
Subject: Vitamins May Cut Risk of Birth Defects in Diabetics
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Regular use of multivitamins may reduce the risk of birth defects in infants born to mothers with diabetes, results of a new study suggest.
Women of childbearing age are already advised to take supplements containing folic acid to protect against certain birth defects, but this study highlights the need for diabetic women to take multivitamins, researchers say.
“We were interested in seeing if the benefit against birth defects could also be seen in offspring of women with diabetes,” lead author Dr. Adolfo Correa of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, told Reuters Health.
Researchers were not able to isolate which nutrients may be producing a beneficial effect. But in the study, diabetic women who reported regular use of multivitamins were just as likely to have a healthy baby as non-diabetic women who also supplemented regularly.
In contrast, women with diabetes who did not take a multivitamin were almost four times more likely to have a child with a birth defect than non-diabetic women who did not take a multivitamin.
“This study will help educate patients, rather than changing patterns of practice among physicians and nurses, who are already recommending use of multivitamins with folic acid to women in their childbearing years,” said Dr. Gene Barrett, the president-elect of the American Diabetes Association.
The report emphasizes the importance of multivitamin use during periconception, which is defined as the three months prior to conception and the first three months of pregnancy. It is in the first weeks of pregnancy, when women often do not know they are pregnant, that the major organs and systems of the body are being formed.
Women who have poorly controlled diabetes in the first months of pregnancy are two to four times as likely to as non-diabetic women to have a child with birth defects, according to the March of Dimes. It is not known why diabetic women are at greater risk for having children with birth defects, but meticulous prenatal care has been effective in minimizing risks during these pregnancies.
“Good prenatal care that includes diabetes control, before and during early pregnancy as well as other factors such as adequate nutrition are advised to all diabetic women,” Correa said. “And the study indicates that it would be prudent to recommend that diabetic women take multivitamins during pregnancy.”
Birth defects of the brain, spinal cord and heart are more common in the children of diabetic women than in other women.
The group studied consisted of 3,278 women who had children with birth defects and 3,029 women who had healthy children in Atlanta between 1968 and 1980.
Regular supplementation was defined as taking multivitamins three or more times a week, and use had to occur during the three months prior to conception, as well as the first three months of pregnancy.
Correa is planning another study, scheduled to begin next year, in which data from more recent births and from a broader population will be analyzed. The research effort will include isolating multivitamin ingredients and assessing their benefits in protecting against birth defects.