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Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Mar;63(3):332-9. Epub 2007 Oct 17.

Effect of vitamin supplementation on breast milk concentrations of retinol, carotenoids and tocopherols in HIV-infected Tanzanian women.

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  • 1Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 2115, USA.



The effect of daily prenatal and postnatal vitamin supplementation on concentrations of breast milk nutrients is not well characterized in HIV-infected women. We examined the impact of vitamin supplementation during pregnancy and lactation on breast milk concentrations of retinol, carotenoids and tocopherols during the first year postpartum among 626 HIV-infected Tanzanian women.


We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Women were assigned to one of four daily oral supplements: vitamin A+beta-carotene (VA+BC); multivitamins (MV; B, C and E); MV+VA+BC or placebo. Concentrations of breast milk nutrients were determined by high-performance liquid chromatography at birth and every 3 months thereafter.


Supplementation with VA+BC increased concentrations of retinol, beta-carotene and alpha-carotene at delivery by 4799, 1791 and 84 nmol l(-1), respectively, compared to no VA+BC (all P<0.0001). MV supplementation did not increase concentrations of alpha-tocopherol or delta-tocopherol at delivery but significantly decreased concentrations of breast milk gamma-tocopherol and retinol. Although concentrations of all nutrients decreased significantly by 3 months postpartum, retinol, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene concentrations were significantly higher among those receiving VA+BC at 3, 6 and 12 months compared to no VA+BC. alpha-Tocopherol was significantly higher, while gamma-tocopherol concentrations were significantly lower, among women receiving MV compared to no MV at 3, 6 and 12 months postpartum.


Sustained supplementation of HIV-infected breastfeeding mothers with MV could be a safe and effective intervention to improve vitamin E concentrations in breast milk. VA+BC supplementation increases concentrations of breast milk retinol but it is not recommended in HIV-infected mothers due to the elevated risk of vertical transmission.

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