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Low Vitamin A Levels Tied to More Childhood Health Problems

Update Date: Feb 07, 2014 01:48 PM EST

Adults and children who maintain a healthy diet are more likely to fulfill the daily recommendations of nutrients, which could lower their risks of developing certain health conditions, such as obesity. In a new study, researchers focused on vitamin A levels specifically in children. They found that children who have vitamin A deficiency are more likely to experience more frequent gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses.

"Studies of older children 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 reported by Medical Xpress.

The research team from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Michigan State University tracked around 2,800 children between five and 12-years-old for one year. The children resided in Bogota, Colombia. The team measured the children's levels of zinc, iron, folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin A (retinol). The researchers discovered that children with lower levels of vitamin A dealt with more cases of diarrhea with vomiting and cough with fever.

"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.

They calculated that every 10 micrograms per deciliter of retinol detected in the blood led to a reduction of 18 percent in days riddled with diarrhea and vomiting. For days with cough and fever, the reduction was 10 percent. Children also visited the doctor's office six percent less.

"The effects of micronutrients, 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 stated.

The findings were published in the Journal of Nutrition.

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