Vitamins C & E do not prevent pregnancy problems: study

Friday, 28 April 2006

Treating pregnant mothers with extra vitamins C and E does not prevent high blood pressure problems or benefit their babies, according to a major new study led by researchers at the University of Adelaide.

The study - the largest of its type conducted anywhere in the world - of more than 1800 women and their babies across nine Australian hospitals showed that treating women in their first pregnancy with vitamin C and vitamin supplements did not help their babies or stop them developing pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia is a disorder of pregnancy characterised by hypertension and protein in the urine occurring in the second half of pregnancy, and affects about six percent of women in their first pregnancy. It carries the risk of serious complications and death for the mother, while risks for the baby include death, being born pre-term, and poor intrauterine growth.

Study leader Professor Caroline Crowther from the University of Adelaide's Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, based at the Women's and Children's Hospital, says that smaller earlier studies had suggested treatment of pregnant women at risk of pre-eclampsia with the antioxidant vitamins C and E might reduce the risk of women developing pre-eclampsia. In addition, there was hope that such treatment might reduce the risk of babies not growing well and help keep them healthy.

"There has been a lack of data from large, well-designed, randomised clinical trials on the effects of women taking supplements during pregnancy with the antioxidant vitamins C and E," Professor Crowther says.

"Our results show that this treatment for women in their first pregnancy in the form of 1000mg vitamin C and 400 IU vitamin E, (higher than what would normally be obtained from the diet) is not beneficial for either the mothers or their babies.

"We do not recommend that women take these extra supplements.

"It is always important that 'new ideas' to improve the health of women and babies are evaluated adequately. Often large multicentre clinical trials are needed to be show whether new therapies do more good than harm."

The study, known as the Australian Collaborative Trials of Supplements with Vitamin C and E, or ACTS, is the largest in the world to date for women in their first on-going pregnancy, with 1877 women and their babies recruited, and involving nine hospitals in Australia.

The results were presented recently by University of Adelaide postdoctoral research fellow Dr Alice Rumbold at the Perinatal Society Australia and New Zealand Congress in Perth, Australia, and were also published this week in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, the New England Journal of Medicine.

The trial was designed by a group of researchers from the University of Adelaide's Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, together with Perinatal Medicine, Women's and Children's Hospital, Adelaide.

Funding was obtained from the National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Channel 7 Research Foundation of South Australia.


Contact Details

Professor Caroline Crowther
Director, Australian Research Centre for Health of Women and Babies
Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynaecology; Robinson Institute
The University of Adelaide and Women's & Children's Hospital, Adelaide
Other: +61 8 8161 7619 (discipline office)

Dr Alice Rumbold
NHMRC Career Development Fellow
Robinson Research Institute
The University of Adelaide
Mobile: (0)411 269 831

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762