Vitamin E in pregnancy and breastfeeding

Vitamin E]]>

Risk Factor: A*
Class: Vitamins

Contents of this page:
Fetal Risk Summary
Breast Feeding Summary

Fetal Risk Summary

Vitamin E (tocopherols) comprises a group of fat-soluble vitamins that are essential for human health, although their exact biologic function is unknown (1). The National Academy of Sciences’ recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin E in pregnancy is 10 mg (1).

Vitamin E concentrations in mothers at term are approximately 45 times that of the newborn (2,3,4,5,6,7 and 8). Levels in the mother rise throughout pregnancy (3). Maternal blood vitamin E usually ranges between 9 and 19 g/mL with corresponding newborn levels varying from 2 to 6 g/mL (2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9). Supplementation of the mother with 1530 mg/day had no effect on either maternal or newborn vitamin E concentrations at term (4). Use of 600 mg/day in the last 2 months of pregnancy produced about a 50% rise in maternal serum vitamin E (+8 g/mL) but a much smaller increase in the cord blood (+1 g/mL) (7). Although placental transfer is by passive diffusion, passage of vitamin E to the fetus is dependent on plasma lipid concentrations (8,9 and 10). At term, cord blood is low in b-lipoproteins, the major carriers of vitamin E, in comparison with maternal blood; as a consequence, it is able to transport less of the vitamin (8). Because vitamin E is transported in the plasma by these lipids, recent investigations have focused on the ratio of vitamin E (in milligrams) to total lipids (in grams) rather than on blood vitamin E concentrations alone (9). Ratios above about 0.60.8 are considered normal depending on the author cited and the age of the patients (9,11,12).

Vitamin E deficiency is relatively uncommon in pregnancy, occurring in less than 10% of all patients (3,4,13). No maternal or fetal complications from deficiency or excess of the vitamin have been identified. Doses far exceeding the RDA have not proved to be harmful (7,14,15). Early studies used vitamin E in conjunction with other therapy in attempts to prevent abortion and premature labor, but no effect of the vitamin therapy was demonstrated (16,17). Premature infants born with low vitamin E stores may develop hemolytic anemia, edema, reticulocytosis, and thrombocytosis if not given adequate vitamin E in the first months following birth (15,18,19). In two studies, supplementation of mothers with 500600 mg of vitamin E during the last 12 months of pregnancy did not produce values significantly different from controls in the erythrocyte hemolysis test with hydrogen peroxide, a test used to determine adequate levels of vitamin E (7,15).

In summary, neither deficiency nor excess of vitamin E has been associated with maternal or fetal complications during pregnancy. In well-nourished women, adequate vitamin E is consumed in the diet and supplementation is not required. If dietary intake is poor, supplementation up to the RDA for pregnancy is recommended.

[* Risk Factor C if used in doses above the RDA.]

Breast Feeding Summary

Vitamin E is excreted into human breast milk (11,12,20,21). Human milk is more than 5 times richer in vitamin E than cow’s milk and is more effective in maintaining adequate serum vitamin E and vitamin E:total lipid ratio in infants up to 1 year of age (11,21). A 1985 study measured 2.3 g/mL of the vitamin in mature milk (20). Milk obtained from preterm mothers (gestational age 2733 weeks) was significantly higher, 8.5 g/mL, during the 1st week and then decreased progressively over the next 6 weeks to 3.7 g/mL (20). The authors concluded that milk from preterm mothers plus multivitamin supplements would provide adequate levels of vitamin E for very-low-birth-weight infants (
Japanese researchers examined the pattern of vitamin E analogues (a-, g-, d-, and b-tocopherols) in plasma and red blood cells from breast-fed and bottle-fed infants (22). Several differences were noted, but the significance of these findings to human health is unknown.

Vitamin E applied for 6 days to the nipples of breast-feeding women resulted in a significant rise in infant serum levels of the vitamin (23). The study group, composed of 10 women, applied the contents of one 400-IU vitamin E capsule to both areolae and nipples after each nursing. Serum concentrations of the vitamin rose from 4 to 17.5 g/mL and those in a similar group of untreated controls rose from 3.4 to 12.2 g/mL. The difference between the two groups was statistically significant (p
The National Academy of Sciences’ RDA of vitamin E during lactation is 12 mg (1). Maternal supplementation is recommended only if the diet does not provide sufficient vitamin E to meet the RDA.



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