Vitamin A deficiency associated with more frequent childhood illness

February 7, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—School-age children with vitamin A deficiencies are more likely to get gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Michigan State University followed nearly 2,800 , ages 5-12, in Bogota, Colombia, over the course of a year. They found that the less A (retinol) in the children's blood, the more incidence of diarrhea with vomiting and cough with fever.

Previous research on vitamin A deficiency had focused on infants and children under the age of 5, and has been somewhat inconsistent about the impact of vitamin A supplementation on respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.

"Studies of have included a range of micronutrients administered together, but no study had estimated the potential role of vitamin A alone in this age group," said Dr. Eduardo Villamor, U-M associate professor of epidemiology and senior author of the study. The study is reported online in the Journal of Nutrition.

The researchers measured markers of other micronutrients that are important to the immune system including zinc, iron, folate and vitamin B12, but only vitamin A was related to illness.

"The association we found with vitamin A followed a dose-response pattern, in that higher blood concentrations of retinol were related to fewer symptoms," Villamor said.

Specifically, they found that for every 10 micrograms per deciliter of retinol present in the blood, children experienced 18 percent fewer days with diarrhea and vomiting, 10 percent fewer days of cough and fever, and 6 percent fewer visits to the doctor.

Vitamin A deficiency is still an important problem in many countries worldwide, Villamor said. In their study of Colombian school children, researchers found that 14 percent of the students were vitamin A-deficient, defined as blood levels less than 20 micrograms per deciliter. The team said more research is needed to determine if vitamin A supplementation can reduce the risk or severity of infection in the older children.

"As we have learned from vitamin A supplementation to younger children, which has shown mixed success in preventing illness, the picture is more complicated than it might appear," Villamor said.

"The effects of , including retinol, could vary in different settings due to the underlying nutritional status of the population, the epidemiologic patterns of the microorganisms that cause illness—whether viral, bacterial or parasitic—the age and possibly sex of children, and other factors. It's definitely uncertain whether supplementation is a one-fits-all solution."

Villamor noted that the work, conducted with researchers from the Foundation for Research in Nutrition and Health in Bogota, is possible because of the existence of a unique, large population-based cohort study of school-age children in this setting.

"As challenging as it may be, establishing these strong research platforms abroad allows us to examine many important questions in contemporary global public health research," Villamor said.

Explore further: Low vitamin D linked to earlier first menstruation, a risk factor for health problems throughout life

Related Stories

Low vitamin D linked to earlier first menstruation, a risk factor for health problems throughout life

August 11, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A study links low vitamin D in young girls with early menstruation, which is a risk factor for a host of health problems for teen girls as well as women later in life.

Low vitamin B12 linked to postural orthostatic tachycardia

December 23, 2013
(HealthDay)—During adolescence, low vitamin B12 levels are associated with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), according to a study published online Dec. 23 in Pediatrics.

Who benefits from vitamin D?

August 13, 2013
Studying the expression of genes that are dependent on vitamin D makes it possible to identify individuals who will benefit from vitamin D supplementation, shows a University of Eastern Finland study published recently in ...

Low vitamin D levels during pregnancy may increase risk of severe preeclampsia

January 27, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Women who are deficient in vitamin D in the first 26 weeks of their pregnancy may be at risk of developing severe preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening disorder diagnosed by an increase in blood ...

Higher vitamin D levels in pregnancy could help babies become stronger

January 3, 2014
Children are likely to have stronger muscles if their mothers had a higher level of vitamin D in their body during pregnancy, according to new research from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU) ...

Recommended for you

At the cellular level, a child's loss of a father is associated with increased stress

July 18, 2017
The absence of a father—due to incarceration, death, separation or divorce—has adverse physical and behavioral consequences for a growing child. But little is known about the biological processes that underlie this link ...

New comparison chart sheds light on babies' tears

July 10, 2017
A chart that enables parents and clinicians to calculate if a baby is crying more than it should in the first three months of its life has been created by a Kingston University London researcher, following a study of colic ...

Blood of SIDS infants contains high levels of serotonin

July 3, 2017
Blood samples from infants who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) had high levels of serotonin, a chemical that carries signals along and between nerves, according to a study funded in part by the National Institutes ...

Is your child's 'penicillin allergy' real?

July 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Many children suspected of being allergic to the inexpensive, first-line antibiotic penicillin actually aren't, new research indicates.

Probiotic supplements failed to prevent babies' infections

July 3, 2017
(HealthDay)—Probiotic supplements may not protect babies from catching colds or stomach bugs in day care, a new clinical trial suggests.

Starting school young can put child wellbeing at risk

June 22, 2017
New research has shown that the youngest pupils in each school year group could be at risk of worse mental health than their older classmates.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.