Circulating levels of retinol, tocopherol and carotenoid in Nepali pregnant and postpartum women following long-term beta-carotene and vitamin A supplementation

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2001 Apr;55(4):252-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601152.


Objective: To characterize circulating carotenoid and tocopherol levels in Nepali women during pregnancy and post-partum and to determine the effects of beta-carotene and vitamin A supplementation on their concentration in serum.

Design: Randomized community supplementation trial.

Setting: The study was carried out from 1994 to 1997 in the Southern, rural plains District of Sarlahi, Nepal.

Subjects: A total of 1431 married women had an ascertained pregnancy, of whom 1186 (83%) provided an analyzable serum sample during pregnancy; 1098 (77%) provided an analyzable 3-4 months post-partum serum sample.

Interventions: Women received a weekly dose of vitamin A (7000 microg RE), beta-carotene (42 mg) or placebo before, during and after pregnancy. Serum was analyzed for retinol, alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein + zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin concentrations during mid-pregnancy and at approximately 3 months post-partum.

Results: Compared to placebo, serum retinol, beta-carotene, gamma-tocopherol, beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein + zeaxanthin concentrations were higher among beta-carotene recipients during pregnancy and, except for beta-cryptoxanthin, at postpartum. In the vitamin A group, serum retinol and beta-cryptoxanthin were higher during pregnancy, and retinol and gamma-tocopherol higher at postpartum. Lutein + zeaxanthin was the dominant carotenoid, regardless of treatment group, followed by serum beta-carotene. Serum lycopene level was lowest, and very low compared to the US population. Serum retinol was higher, and carotenoid and alpha-tocopherol lower, at postpartum than during pregnancy in all groups.

Conclusions: Pregnant and lactating Nepali women have lower serum carotenoid and tocopherol levels than well-nourished populations. beta-carotene supplementation appeared to increase levels of tocopherol and other carotenoids in this population.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carotenoids / blood*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Nepal
  • Postpartum Period / blood*
  • Pregnancy / blood*
  • Rural Population
  • Vitamin A / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin A / blood*
  • Vitamin E / blood*
  • beta Carotene / administration & dosage*


  • beta Carotene
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Carotenoids