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Bangladesh Study Links Miscarriages, Low Vitamin E

FILE - A Bangladeshi woman shields her baby from the sun as she stands in a line at a rice shop in Dhaka, April 5, 2008.
FILE - A Bangladeshi woman shields her baby from the sun as she stands in a line at a rice shop in Dhaka, April 5, 2008.

A new study links lower levels of vitamin E with higher rates of miscarriage. The study of women in Bangladesh suggests a better diet may lead to better pregnancy outcomes.

For years, researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have been working with local teams in rural Bangladesh, studying maternal and child health. In this new study, they focused on the levels of vitamin E in blood samples taken early in pregnancy. One study leader said they found a link between those levels and the risk of losing the baby.

“Women who, at the beginning of their pregnancies, had adequate concentrations of vitamin E in their blood were half as likely to go on and have a miscarriage,” Kerry Schulze said in a telephone interview.

About 10 percent of the women with low vitamin E lost their babies, compared with the 5 percent of pregnant women with higher vitamin E levels who miscarried.

Vitamin E is found in some cooking oils and nuts, part of a normal, diverse diet. It can be given as a supplement — pregnant women in Bangladesh already get extra iron and folate (vitamin B9) — but Schulze said adding vitamin E might not be effective in preventing miscarriages, which can occur very early in pregnancy.

“Often, if you’re talking about supplementing women during pregnancy, they’re not actually getting those supplements until well into their pregnancies, after that window of opportunity for preventing miscarriage would have closed,” she said.

Schulze’s research is complicated somewhat because her team actually looked at two forms of vitamin E. She was discussing alpha-tocopherol, which is the most active form of the vitamin in the body, and seems to be associated with successful pregnancies. However, high levels of a less active form, known as gamma-tocopherol, were related to higher risk of miscarriage. But that association was statistically weaker and less important.

The study by Schulze and colleagues is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.