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The Importance of Vitamin B for Conception and Pregnancy

Katlyn Joy |12, January 2015


A new study published in the December issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds a link between intake of vitamin B and diminished negative results from pesticides, specifically DDT and DDE.

Leader of the study, Xiaobin Wang, MD, ScD, MPH, the Zanvyl Krieger Professor and Director of the Center on the Early Life Origins of Disease at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says, "This study tells us that improved nutrition may modify the toxic effects of DDT, by better preparing the body to cope with environmental toxins and stressors. We have shown that women with high levels of DDT who also had high levels of B vitamins had a better chance of getting and staying pregnant than those were deficient in those vitamins."

The pesticide DDT, a major component of which is DDE, was banned by the US in 1972, and in China, where the research was carried out, in 1984. However, the pesticide can remain in the body or the environment for decades.

DDT is primarily used to kill mosquitoes, and while it's a known endocrine disruptor, it is still used in many developing countries struggling with the disease of malaria.

For the study, researchers looked at Chinese textile workers between the years 1996 and 1998, all of whom were trying to become pregnant. Daily, for up to one year, the women had their urine tested for the presence of hCG, the hormone that detects pregnancy. By doing this, researchers were able to diagnose pregnancy well in advance of a woman typically knowing she was pregnant. DDE and DDT levels, as well as vitamin B levels, were measured in women prior to pregnancy.

Of the 291 women in the study, there were 385 conceptions of which 31 percent ended in miscarriage prior to the 6 week mark of pregnancy.

Researchers determined that in women with high DDT levels and also higher levels of vitamin B, there was a 42 percent chance of miscarriage in the early weeks of pregnancy. However, in women with high levels of the pesticide, and deficiencies of vitamin B, the risk of early miscarriage was twice as high.

For the study, researchers looked at vitamin B-6, B-12 and folic acid and found that risk of miscarriage was highest with deficiencies in vitamin B-12 and folic acid, and with deficiencies in more than one type of vitamin B.

Another noteworthy finding of the study was that in women with high levels of the pesticide, the time it took to conceive was nearly twice as long.

The typical routine in much of the world is to administer iron-folate once a woman is starting her prenatal treatment, usually around the 8th to 12th week of pregnancy. By then, there is a great chance the pregnancy would be lost in many cases. This is especially critical in countries where foods are not fortified with folic acid as they are in the US.

Wang believes fortifying foods with folic acids and emphasizing better nutrition, particularly in regards to vitamin B, could improve pregnancy outcomes in countries still using DDT. There is also a population in the US where this could be a factor, such as with immigrants from countries where DDT is in use, and in low-income women who may not eat enough leafy, green vegetables. Also, women in the US can still be at risk from the pesticide in imported foods or in locally grown foods that grew in soil where DDT is still found.

Wang stated, "Health care providers need to make sure women get adequate micronutrients including B vitamins in their diets not only during pregnancy but before they even conceive. Otherwise, we may miss that critical window."

Foods high in folic acid or vitamin B include enriched foods like cereals, grains, breads, meats such as liver, enriched soy or rice milk, eggs, poultry, beans, fish, fruits and veggies especially dark green leafy vegetables, papayas, oranges, wheat germ, black-eyed peas, avocado, asparagus, rice, peanuts, tomato juice, and seafood. However, among foods, some of the richest sources of folate include brussels sprouts, liver, spinach, asparagus and yeast.

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Somera Apr 21, 2017 08:42:02 AM ET

I read most of the articles, and I had great information about early pregnancy because I am suffering from miscarriage because of a deficiency of vitamin B.

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