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This one is about: Vitamin-A Alert

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This is reprinted from the Reader's Digest, March 1996, and originally appeared in the New York Times.

Vitamin-A Alert!

Women who take excessive amounts of vitamin A early in pregnancy can cause serious birth defects in their unborn children, according to a Boston University School of Medicine study. Researchers found that the babies of women who daily consumed more than 10,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin A from supplements (nearly four times the recommended amount) were more likely to be born with malformations of the head, face, heart and brain.

In addition to supplements, vitamin A is found in most animal foods and especially large amounts in liver. A three-ounce serving, for example, may have more than 30,000 IUs. Even if women took no supplements, those who frequently ate liver could exceed safe vitamin-A levels. Beta carotene, which the body can convert into vitamin A, is not associated with an increased birth-defect risk.

When taken correctly during pregnancy, vitamin A is an essential nutrient in the baby's development. But several national surveys suggest that two to five percent of women of childbearing age may be consuming more than 10,000 IUs daily. Given the Boston University study's findings, co-author Lynn L. Moore recommends that these women consult with their physicians before taking vitamin-A supplements exceeding 8000 IUs.

by Jane E. Brody

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