New United States research has found that mothers who smoke while pregnant may be able to offset some of the damage to the lungs of their children by taking vitamin C supplements during their pregnancy.
Led by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, the new trial study looked at 251 pregnant women who smoked and randomly assigned them at 13 to 23 weeks of pregnancy to either receive a vitamin C supplement (125 women) or a placebo (126 women).
In addition, all participants also received smoking cessation counseling throughout the study.
The findings, published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, showed that when the infants were three months of age, those whose mothers had taken 500 milligrams of vitamin C in addition to their prenatal vitamin had significantly better forced expiratory flows (FEFs), which measure how fast air can be exhaled from the lung and are an important measure of lung function.
The researchers also found that at the start of the study, the women had lower levels of ascorbic acid, a component of vitamin C, than have been reported among women who do not smoke. During the study, these levels increased in the women who received vitamin C to become comparable to women who do not smoke, supporting the researchers’ hypothesis that smoking reduces the amount of ascorbic acid in the body due to the oxidative stress that it causes.
“Smoking during pregnancy reflects the highly addictive nature of nicotine that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Cindy T. McEvoy, lead study author. “Finding a way to help infants exposed to smoking and nicotine in utero 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 concluded that a relatively low dosage of vitamin C may present “a safe and inexpensive intervention that has the potential to help lung health of millions of infants worldwide,” however she added that helping mothers quit smoking should still be the primary goal for health professionals.
“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. JB