Vitamin A supplementation for the prevention of morbidity and mortality in infants one to six months of age

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Sep 28;9(9):CD007480. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007480.pub3.


Background: Vitamin A deficiency is a significant public health problem in low- and middle-income countries. Vitamin A supplementation provided to infants less than six months of age is one of the strategies to improve the nutrition of infants at high risk of vitamin A deficiency and thus potentially reduce their mortality and morbidity.

Objectives: To evaluate the effect of synthetic vitamin A supplementation in infants one to six months of age in low- and middle-income countries, irrespective of maternal antenatal or postnatal vitamin A supplementation status, on mortality, morbidity and adverse effects.

Search methods: We used the standard search strategy of Cochrane Neonatal to search the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL 2016, Issue 2), MEDLINE via PubMed (1966 to 5 March 2016), Embase (1980 to 5 March 2016) and CINAHL (1982 to 5 March 2016). We also searched clinical trials databases, conference proceedings and the reference lists of retrieved articles for randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised trials.

Selection criteria: Randomised or quasi-randomised, individually or cluster randomised trials involving synthetic vitamin A supplementation compared to placebo or no intervention provided to infants one to six months of age were eligible.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors assessed the studies for eligibility and assessed their risk of bias and collected data on outcomes.

Main results: The review included 12 studies (reported in 22 publications). The included studies assigned 24,846 participants aged one to six months to vitamin A supplementation or control group. There was no effect of vitamin A supplementation for the primary outcome of all-cause mortality based on seven studies that included 21,339 (85%) participants (risk ratio (RR) 1.05, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.89 to 1.25; I2 = 0%; test for heterogeneity: P = 0.79; quality of evidence: moderate). Also, there was no effect of vitamin A supplementation on mortality or morbidity due to diarrhoea and respiratory tract infection. There was an increased risk of bulging fontanelle within 24 to 72 hours of supplementation in the vitamin A group compared to control (RR 3.10, 95% CI 1.89 to 5.09; I2 = 9%, test for heterogeneity: P = 0.36; quality of evidence: high). There was no reported subsequent increased risk of death, convulsions or irritability in infants who developed bulging fontanelle after vitamin A supplementation, and it resolved in most cases within 72 hours. There was no increased risk of other adverse effects such as vomiting, irritability, diarrhoea, fever and convulsions in the vitamin A supplementation group compared to control. Vitamin A supplementation did not have any statistically significant effect on vitamin A deficiency (RR 0.86, 95% CI 0.70 to 1.06; I2 = 27%; test for heterogeneity: P = 0.25; quality of evidence: moderate).

Authors' conclusions: There is no convincing evidence that vitamin A supplementation for infants one to six months of age results in a reduction in infant mortality or morbidity in low- and middle-income countries. There is an increased risk of bulging fontanelle with vitamin A supplementation in this age group; however, there were no reported subsequent complications because of this adverse effect.

Publication types

  • Review