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Biofortified maize ‘could control vitamin A deficiency’
  • Biofortified maize ‘could control vitamin A deficiency’

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  • Up to 500,000 children globally become blind a year from vitamin A deficiency

  • A study assessed the potential of biofortified maize in addressing the problem

  • Researchers found biofortified maize to be as effective as vitamin A supplements

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[COTONOU] Orange maize — a type of maize biofortified with vitamin A — increases the amount of the vitamin in the body and could therefore be used to manage vitamin A deficiency, especially in children, according to a study conducted in Zambia.
 
The researchers from Mexico, the United States and Zambia say they undertook the study because of vitamin A deficiency observed in 250 millions of children worldwide, which leads to up to 500,000 children a year becoming blind.

“Many children in the world do not have enough vitamin A in their bodies and to fight against this, many countries have started fortification with vitamin A. However, it is expensive.”

Sherry Tanumihardjo, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 
The orange maize study was to assess the body stores of vitamin A in children given orange maize, regular white maize or vitamin A supplements. Vitamin A prevents blindness and contributes to the healthy development of children.
 
According to the study published in the December 2014 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers randomly assigned 140 rural, Zambian children into three groups, and analysed the amount of the vitamin in each group after three months.
 
They found that children who were given orange maize and vitamin A supplements showed significant increased total body stores of vitamin A whilst those who received white maize did not have any change in the amount of the vitamin in their body stores.
 
“Many children in the world do not have enough vitamin A in their bodies and to fight against this, many countries have started fortification with vitamin A,” says Sherry Tanumihardjo, a co-author of the study and a researcher at the US-based University of Wisconsin-Madison. “However, it is expensive and can lead to too much vitamin A. Orange maize is the solution to getting the recommended daily amount of vitamin A necessary for a healthy life.”
 
For Mourad Moursi, a nutritionist and epidemiologist at the US-based HarvestPlus, a research centre that supports biofortification, this study showed that supplementation with vitamin A capsules and vitamin A biofortification of orange maize have similar effects on the level of vitamin A in children.
 
“The study clearly shows that vitamin A obtained from the orange maize is as effective as vitamin A capsules that have been the gold standard in the fight against vitamin A deficiency,” says Moursi, who was not involved in the study.
 
The researchers explain that orange maize is rich in a pigment called beta-carotene, which the body then converts to vitamin A.
 
According to HarvestPlus, governments of countries such as Nigeria and Zambia with high cases of vitamin A deficiency in children have introduced orange maize to farmers.
 
Link to study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
 
Translation: Bernice Nduta

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net’s Afrique Sub-Saharienne news desk.

References

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition doi 10.3945/ajcn.114.087379 9 (2014)
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