This is a particular issue in the UK, where 54,000 babies are born prematurely each year in England alone.
Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer, vice president of Switzerland-based DSM Nutrition, last night (Tuesday, October 16) told a vitamins seminar that greater education, fortification of products and supplements for specific at risk groups was essential to tackle inadequate vitamin E levels.
He told the event, held at King’s College London: “This would have a substantial impact in making pregnancy safer, with studies showing a significant reduction of pre-term births in those groups who had adequate vitamin E levels.”
The figure of a 30% reduction was cited from research published in the Journal of Maternal and Neonatal Medicine.
Asthma in children
Low maternal intake of vitamin E, zinc and vitamin D during pregnancy have also been associated with an increase in recurrent wheeze and asthma in children up to five years of age. In the UK alone, 5.4M people are currently receiving treatment for asthma, including 1.1M children. The NHS spends about £1bn a year treating and caring for people with asthma.
Eggersdorfer’s talk, ‘100 Years of Vitamins’, reflected on the findings of a YouGov survey into vitamin E released yesterday which uncovered a widespread lack of knowledge from the 2,000 people surveyed.
Just 13% of women were aware that Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant. Furthermore, only 1% of women were aware of all the primary benefits of vitamin E.
Eggersdorfer said it was known to improve skin condition and protect cells in the body from disease damage, as well as its benefits for pregnant mothers.
“It also reduces blood clots and aids blood flow, as well as having an European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) claim as an antioxidant function in place,” he added.
“It is vital we make people aware of the role of vitamin E and adequately communicate its benefits.”
Speaking in the context of wider vitamin consumption, Eggersdorfer said “single high doses” of individual vitamins was the wrong approach. He added any supplements should be consumed as part of a wider, healthy and balanced diet.
Some of the most important sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains and wheat germ. Other sources include seeds and green leafy vegetables. The vitamin E content of vegetables, fruits, dairy products and fish and meat is relatively low.
Eggersdorfer said fortification of products with vitamin E was a possible solution, with some European countries adding it to milk.
Speaking after the event, Professor Tom Sanders, head of the college’s diabetes and nutrition division, said evidence suggested vitamin E consumption had increased in the UK in the “past 10−20 years”, citing increasing levels of vegetable oils in products like baked crisps, and urged caution before recommending dietary supplements for pregnant women.