" " Vitamin A: Breastfeeding coupled with good nutrition key to preventing blindness in infants


Breastfeeding coupled with good nutrition key to preventing blindness in infants

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Breastfeeding helps prevent
childhood blindness 
Children who are breastfed generally are healthier than those who are not. But don’t think that just because you give your infant your breast, that all their nutritional needs will be met.  This is especially true for those moms who exclusively feed their children breast milk.

During pregnancy, many extra demands are placed on the carrying mom. Over and above the obvious extra mouth or mouths to feed, hormonal changes, emotional stress and a change in eating habits can all take their toll. It is sensible therefore for woman planning on falling pregnant to begin changing their diets and lifestyle in advance so that all of their and their baby’s nutritional needs are met.

One area identified by the World Health Organization(WHO) as a major global problem for pregnant woman and their baby’s is Vitamin A Deficiency(VAD). Common in lower income groups of people, VAD is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness, anaemia and weakened host resistance to infection, which can increase the severity of infectious diseases and infant mortality rates.

A further danger of VAD in infants is that it causes diarrhea, which in turn causes further drops in vitamin A levels and then worsening bouts of diarrhea. A vicious cycle to say the least.

The mothers themselves are not spared the ignominy of VAD. In a recent study, 19.8 million pregnant women in 1 year had a low vitamin A status, of which 7.2 million had VAD. An astounding 6.2 million of these woman experienced gestational night blindness.

By this stage many readers are now asking, “What is Vitamin A and where can I get it?”

Actually, Vitamin A is somewhat of a misnomer. It isn’t one thing but rather it is a group of fat-soluble retinoids. This group includes retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, and retinyl esters and collectively these go by the name of Vitamin A. 

Further complicating matters is the fact that it occurs in two very different forms in the human diet: as preformed vitamin A (retinol and its esterified form, retinyl ester) and as provitamin A carotenoids. Knowing this makes a big difference because each type has different uses and precautions.

Preformed Vitamin A is only found in animal foods, like dairy products, fish and meat. Animal liver particularly has high doses of preformed Vitamin A. Everybody needs this type of Vitamin A, its crucial to our diets. “What about pregnant or breast feeding moms who are vegetarians and vegans I hear you saying?” 

Well, hold your horses, we will get there in a moment. First, a bit about the other type of Vitamin A, Provitamin A carotenoids. These carotenoids, and there are three types, are found in vegetables and fruits. Beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are converted by the body into Vitamin A, beta-carotene being the most important of these. As an indicator, the more intense the color of a fruit or vegetable, the higher its beta-carotene content will be. 

The good news for vegetarians and vegans is the fact that many people’s bodies are able to convert these carotenoids into Preformed Vitamin A. Some factors that could prevent this conversion from taking place could include the following: alcohol abuse(which hopefully you won’t be doing if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or ever), genetic predispositions, digestive problems, bacterial imbalances in the digestive tract, excessive exposure to toxic chemicals, imbalanced intake of vitamin A and vitamin D as a result of high-dose supplementation and various medications. 
A good source of Provitamin A carotenoids are sweet potatoes, carrots(of course) and dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli etc. And of course there are many dietary supplements, vitamin and multi-vitamin products available.
On a cautionary note, too much Preformed Vitamin A can have serious side effects, including death. Pregnant women are strongly advised against taking high doses of Vitamin A supplements. Thus, when choosing a Vitamin A supplement, to be on the safe side rather choose one that derives most of its Vitamin A from beta-carotene sources.(Check the label for this info).
High doses of Provitamin A, on the other hand, have not been associated with side effects except for skin turning a yellow-orange shade. Thankfully this is reversible by discontinuing beta-carotene intake. 
Finally, as a rule of thumb, before changing your diet or taking supplements, its wise to consult a medical practitioner first, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Ones race, gender, age and whether you are pregnant, breastfeeding or not makes a big difference in these matters. And they should be able to advise you on how much is too much or too little and what can safely be consumed. 

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