Multivitamin supplementation and risk of birth defects

Am J Epidemiol. 1999 Oct 1;150(7):675-82. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a010070.


It is widely accepted that supplementation with folic acid, a B vitamin, reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). This case-control study tested the hypothesis that multivitamins reduce risks of selected birth defects other than NTDs. Infants with and without birth defects and aborted fetuses with birth defects were ascertained in the greater metropolitan areas of Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto during 1993-1996. Mothers were interviewed within 6 months after delivery about a variety of factors, including details on vitamin use. Eight case groups were included: cleft lip with or without cleft palate, cleft palate only, conotruncal defects, ventricular septal defects, urinary tract defects, limb reduction defects, congenital hydrocephaly, and pyloric stenosis (n's ranged from 31 to 186). Controls were 521 infants without birth defects (nonmalformed controls) and 442 infants with defects other than those of the cases (malformed controls). Daily multivitamin supplementation was evaluated according to gestational timing categories, including periconceptional use (28 days before through 28 days after the last menstrual period). Odds ratios (ORs) below 1.0 were observed for all case groups except cardiac defects, regardless of control type. For periconceptional use, ORs with 95% confidence intervals that excluded 1.0 were estimated for limb reduction defects using both nonmalformed controls (OR = 0.3) and malformed controls (OR = 0.2) and for urinary tract defects using both nonmalformed controls (OR = 0.6) and malformed controls (OR = 0.5). Statistically significant ORs for use that began after the periconceptional period were observed for cleft palate only and urinary tract defects. These data support the hypothesis that periconceptional vitamin supplementation may extend benefits beyond a reduction in NTD risk. However, other than folic acid's protecting against NTDs, it is not clear what nutrient or combination of nutrients might affect risk of other specific defects.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Boston / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Supplements / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Odds Ratio
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Philadelphia / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vitamins / administration & dosage*


  • Vitamins