Sex differences in the effects of maternal vitamin supplements on mortality and morbidity among children born to HIV-infected women in Tanzania

Br J Nutr. 2010 Jun;103(12):1784-91. doi: 10.1017/S0007114509993862. Epub 2010 Mar 9.


We examined whether there are sex differences in the effect of vitamin supplements on birth outcomes, mortality and morbidity by 2 years of age among children born to HIV-infected women in Tanzania. A randomised placebo-controlled trial was conducted among 959 mother-infant pairs. HIV-infected pregnant women were randomly assigned to receive a daily oral dose of one of four regimens: multivitamins (vitamins B-complex, C and E), vitamin A plus beta-carotene, multivitamins including vitamin A plus beta-carotene or placebo. Supplements were administered during pregnancy and continued after delivery. The beneficial effect of multivitamins on decreasing the risk of low birth weight was stronger among girls (relative risks (RR) = 0.39, 95 % CI 0.22, 0.67) than among boys (RR = 0.81, 95 % CI 0.44, 1.49; P for interaction = 0.08). Maternal multivitamin supplements resulted in 32 % reduction in mortality among girls (RR = 0.68, 95 % CI 0.47, 0.97), whereas no effect was found among boys (RR = 1.20, 95 % CI 0.80, 1.78; P for interaction = 0.04). Multivitamins had beneficial effects on the overall risks of diarrhoea that did not differ by sex. Vitamin A plus beta-carotene alone increased the risk of HIV transmission, but had no effects on mortality, and we found no sex differences in these effects. Sex differential effects of multivitamins on mortality may be due to sex-related differences in the immunological or genetic factors. More research is warranted to examine the effect of vitamins by sex and better understand biological mechanisms mediating such effects.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diarrhea / etiology
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / complications
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections* / transmission
  • HIV-1
  • Humans
  • Infant Mortality*
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical*
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Tanzania / epidemiology
  • Vitamins / pharmacology
  • Vitamins / therapeutic use*
  • Young Adult


  • Vitamins