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Pregnancy - Vitamins C and E Don’t Prevent Birth Complications – Symptoms - Preeclampsia Not Avoided by Large Doses of Antioxidants

April 27th 2006

Pregnancy - Vitamins C and E Don’t Prevent Birth Complications – Symptoms - Preeclampsia Not Avoided by Large Doses of Antioxidants


Large doses of vitamins C and E won’t prevent preeclampsia, according to research in the April 27th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.  Preeclampsia is a relatively common but potentially dangerous pregnancy complication, which affects 5-8% of all pregnancies. 

Preeclampsia occurs only during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and is characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine.  Symptoms include swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision, but according to the Preeclampsia Foundation, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms.

The study included 1,877 Australian women pregnant for the first time.  The researchers excluded women who were pregnant with multiple fetuses and women with chronic health conditions, such as kidney disease and high blood pressure. They found that the addition of these vitamins did not prevent preeclampsia or even lower the risk of complications for the infant. 


Beginning in the second trimester, the women were randomly assigned either a placebo or 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C with 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E daily.  There were 935 women who were given the vitamin regimen, and 942 were given the placebo until delivery.

There were no significant differences between the two groups.  In fact, 6% of the women in the vitamin group developed preeclampsia, while only 5% in the placebo group did.  The rates of death or serious outcomes were slightly higher in the placebo group.  These complications arose in 9.5% of the vitamin group and 12.1% of the placebo group. 

The risk of having a low birth weight baby was 8.7 percent for those receiving vitamin therapy, and 9.9 percent for those women on the placebo.  Low birth weight is defined as a weight in the lowest 10th percentile.   


The researchers said these dosages of vitamins far exceed the dosages in prenatal vitamins.  They don’t believe there is much a woman can do to prevent preeclampsia, but recommend eating a healthy diet full of vitamins and minerals, getting a moderate amount of exercise and reducing your stress levels.  There is little benefit to this therapy without being in a trial situation or without careful consultation with their physician.

Lead author, Alice Rumbold, said “Our study found that for women in the first pregnancy, taking vitamin C and E supplements did not reduce the risk of developing preeclampsia.  Alice is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Adelaide and Women's and Children's Hospital in North Adelaide, Australia.  She adds “However, there was nothing in the results to suggest that the vitamin C and E supplements were harmful to the baby.”

Risk factors for preeclampsia include carrying multiple fetuses, being overweight, being under 20 or over 35, or having a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, and lupus.  Women who have not been pregnant for before or who have not been pregnant in the past 10 years have a higher risk. Women who have had preeclampsia before are also at a higher risk. 


It is important to remember that the women at the highest risk were left out of the study.  The study outcome could have been different if these women were included.  Researchers point out that the results could vary according to country. 

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