Vitamin E plays an important role in the health of a fetus in pregnancy and can reduce the risk for miscarriage among women in developing countries, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The study, led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, discovered that poor women in Bangladesh with low levels of the most common form of vitamin E are nearly twice as likely to have a miscarriage as women with an adequate level of the vitamin in their blood.
The vitamin works as an antioxidant to slow down cell damage, and it is often absorbed from vegetable oils used in cooking in Bangladesh.
More than 1600 Bangladeshi pregnant women had their blood taken in the first trimester to study their levels of vitamin E, and 141 of the women miscarried, according to the study.
The researchers examined 2 forms of vitamin E: alpha-tocopherol, which is more active, and gamma-tocopherol. A little more than 10% of the women with low levels of alpha-tocopherol miscarried in the first or second trimester, compared with 5.2% of women with adequate levels in their blood, the study found.
Higher levels of gamma-tocopherol, on the other hand, were associated with an increased miscarriage risk, but to a lesser degree, according to Kerry Schulze, PhD, an associate scientist in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and 1 of the study’s leaders.
“For nearly a century, we have known about vitamin E and its role in the fertility of animals,” Schulze said. “To our knowledge, this is the first study in humans that has looked at the association of vitamin E and miscarriage. The findings from this study support a role for vitamin E in protecting the embryo and fetus in pregnancy.”
Researchers posited that taking vitamin E in the form of prenatal supplements could have a direct impact on fertility, according to the study. However, pregnant women in developing countries do not typically take prenatal multivitamins to the same degree as women in the United States, though they are often advised to take iron and folic acid supplements.
According to Schulze, the study results may not be generalizable to higher-income countries, where women tend to have better nutrition.