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Food Nutr Bull. 2003 Jun;24(2):208-17.

Red palm oil supplementation: a feasible diet-based approach to improve the vitamin A status of pregnant women and their infants.

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National Institute of Nutrition, Indian Council of Medical Research, Jamai Osmania, Hyderabad, India.


This double-blinded, randomized, controlled study was designed to study the effect of dietary supplementation with red palm oil during pregnancy on maternal and neonatal vitamin A status. A total of 170 women were recruited at 16 to 24 weeks of gestation and randomly assigned to an experimental group that received red palm oil to supply approximately one recommended dietary amount (RDA) (2,400 micrograms) of beta-carotene or to a control group that received an equivalent volume of groundnut oil. The women received the oils for a period of 8 weeks, starting at 26 to 28 weeks of gestation and extending to 34 to 36 weeks of gestation. The mean postintervention (34 to 36 weeks) levels of serum retinol were 1.20 +/- 0.22 (SD) mumol/L (95% CI, 1.15-1.25) in women receiving red palm oil and 0.73 +/- 0.15 mumol/L (95% CI, 0.69-0.77) in their infants; these levels were significantly higher than those in women receiving groundnut oil (1.07 +/- 0.26 mumol/L; 95% CI, 1.01-1.13; p < .01) and their infants (0.62 +/- 0.17 mumol/L; 95% CI, 0.57-0.67; p < .001). A significantly lower proportion of women in the red palm oil group than in the control group had vitamin A deficiency (serum retinol levels < 0.7 mumol/L) after intervention (1.5% vs. 9.7%). The proportion of women having anemia was significantly lower (p < .01) in the red palm oil-supplemented group (80.6%) than in the control group (96.7%). The mean birthweight and gestational age of the infants did not differ significantly between the two groups. An increased risk of low birth-weight (p = .003) and preterm delivery (p = .000) was observed with decreasing serum retinol levels in the third trimester of pregnancy. These results show that red palm oil supplementation significantly improved maternal and neonatal vitamin A status and reduced the prevalence of maternal anemia. Maternal vitamin A status in the later part of pregnancy is significantly associated with fetal growth and maturation. Hence red palm oil, a rich source of bioavailable vitamin A, could be used as a diet-based approach for improving vitamin A status in pregnancy.

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