ABDs Of Infant Asthma?
Link to Baby Vitamins Shown, But Not Conclusive
By January W. Payne
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 13, 2004; Page HE01
A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics found that infants given multivitamin supplements before 6 months of age had increased risks of asthma and food allergies. The asthma link was stronger for African Americans than for other racial groups.
"What we found was that in giving multivitamins prior to 6 months of age, [there was a] 30 percent increased risk for asthma" in African American infants regardless of whether they were breast-fed, said lead investigator Joshua D. Milner, a clinical fellow in allergy and immunology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The increased risk for asthma among non-black babies who took multivitamins was not statistically significant.
Babies of all racial groups who were exclusively formula fed and given multivitamin/mineral drops had a 70 percent increased risk for food allergies, Milner said in a phone interview.
But researchers said the findings do not mean that parents should rush to take their children off multivitamins.
"This is the first time anybody has looked at this," said Rachel Y. Moon, a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center who worked on the study. "This is just an association. . . . There needs to be further study done to figure out what that association is."
Researchers analyzed data from the 1988 National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) National Maternal-Infant Health Survey, which followed about 8,000 mothers and their infants. The survey asked parents if they gave their children vitamin/mineral drops and whether their babies were breast- or bottle-fed. A 1991 follow-up survey asked the same parents if their children had developed specific health problems, including asthma and food allergies. Overall, about 10 percent of the children studied developed asthma, and about 5 percent developed food allergies.
Milner said he decided to do the study in 2001 after reading basic research and epidemiological reports on the effects of vitamin use.
The previous studies suggested that "certain individual vitamins had the capacity to alter the immune system in some ways," Milner said. Additional studies ideally would follow patients for many years.
"It would take a very large number of children . . . and years of follow-up before you're sure you've seen all the food allergies and asthma that are going to be diagnosed," Milner said, adding that in children, food allergies are typically diagnosed by age 4, and asthma by age 6.
His study also looked at cases of hay fever among survey respondents, but researchers did not find a significant change in risk related to multivitamin use.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company