Daily vitamin C pills could reduce damage done to unborn babies’ lungs by pregnant mothers who smoke
- Researchers gave half of a group of pregnant women vitamin C pills and the other half placebo pills
- The babies of mothers who took 500 mg of vitamin C had healthier airways at three months old
- Smoking can lead to preterm birth, low birth weight, birth defects such as cleft lip, and reduced lung capacity
- Scientists say the primary goal of health professionals should remain helping mothers quit smoking
Pregnant women who struggle to quit smoking should take vitamin C to better protect the lungs of their unborn child, a new study suggests.
Researchers say babies, whose mothers took 500mg of vitamin C daily, had healthier airways at three months old than those whose mothers did not.
The team, led by Oregon Health & Science University, says the nutrient found in citrus fruits could provide a safe and inexpensive intervention for pregnant women hooked on cigarettes.
However, they stress that helping mothers quit smoking should remain the primary goal of health professionals and public health officials.
A new study has found that pregnant women who smoked, but took 500 mg of vitamin C daily, had babies with healthier airways at three months old than those whose mothers did not (file image)
It is well known that women who smoke while pregnant create several health problems for their children.
Smoking raises the risk of premature birth, vaginal bleeding and problems with the placenta.
It also increases a baby’s risk of defects such as cleft lip and cleft palate or a low birth weight.
Additionally, if women smoke while pregnant, it could damage unborn babies’ lungs at crucial points in their development – leading to reduced lung capacity in later life.
For the study, the team based their tests on forced expiratory flows (FEFs), which measures the speed at which air coming out of the lungs during the middle portion of a forced exhalation.
Researchers say these tests are a good measure of function because they can detect airway obstruction.
The team looked at more than 250 pregnant smokers who began the study between 13 and 23 weeks into their term.
All of the women received counseling on quitting smoking throughout the course of the study, with about one in 10 doing so.
Half of the women received a vitamin C pill and the other half received a placebo pill.
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The babies of the women who took vitamin C pills did better on FEFs than the babies of those who took placebo pills.
‘Smoking during pregnancy reflects the highly addictive nature of nicotine that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations,’ said lead author Dr Cindy McEvoy, a professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University.
‘Finding a way to help infants exposed to smoking and nicotine in the womb recognizes the unique dangers posed by a highly advertised, addictive product and the lifetime effects on offspring who did not choose to be exposed.’
Dr McEvoy says the study supports the hypothesis that cigarette smoking reduces the amount of vitamin C available in the body.
By taking a supplement, mothers can protect their cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
In a previous study led by Dr McEvoy, her team found the babies of mothers born to smokers had better lung function 72 hours birth when their mothers took 500 mg of vitamin C compared to the same dose of a placebo.
However, that study did not use FEFs to measure lung function, which is what doctors use to diagnose lung disease in adults and older children.
The infants in this study will continued to be monitored for lung function and to have respiratory outcomes analyzed.
For future studies, the researchers want to see if pregnant women taking vitamin C supplements earlier in pregnancy could provide greater outcomes.
Dr McEvoy says that although vitamin C may be ‘a safe and inexpensive intervention’, the primary goal should be helping mother quit smoking.
‘Although vitamin C supplementation may protect to some extent the lungs of babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy, those children will still be at greater risk for obesity, behavioral disorders and other serious health issues,’ she said.
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