A fortified orange-flavored powdered drink has proved so successful in improving the health of Tanzanian children that the Cornell University and Tanzanian teams who tested it now want to see if it will do the same for pregnant and lactating women in developing countries.
The Micronutrient Initiative of Canada has provided a $165,000 grant to Michael C. Latham to conduct a two-year study of 350 pregnant women. He will seek to determine the effectiveness of a simple drink in improving the iron and general nutritional status of pregnant and lactating women in Tanzania. The drink is made by mixing about two tablespoons of powder, fortified with 11 vitamins and minerals, in a glass of water.
Latham is professor of international nutrition at Cornell and a physician who was director of Cornell,s Program in International Nutrition for 25 years. His collaborators on the study include Cornell colleagues Deborah Ash and Diklar Makola, M.D., and Tanzanian collaborators, Godwin Ndossi, Cornell Ph.D. '92, and Simon Tatala, M.D.
Rather than using megadoses of nutrients, vitamin pills or fortified foods to boost the diets of Tanzanian children, who are commonly deficient in many nutritional areas, the researchers found that this new approach was very effective and had other advantages. Latham found that the fortified drink not only significantly improved nutritional deficiencies but also brought almost twice as much weight gain and 25 percent greater gain in height in children who consumed the drink versus children who drank a placebo. Among the consumers of the fortified drink, most of the children with moderately severe anemia showed significant improvement in iron levels while many of the consumers of the nonfortified drink showed a worsening.
Latham notes that between one- and two-thirds of pregnant women in the developing world suffer from anemia, and many do not take iron pills regularly. Many pregnant women are at risk of iodine deficiency, which can compromise mental development in their babies. Because many infants in developing countries are at risk for vitamin A deficiency, Latham hopes that the drink will reduce this problem by boosting the vitamin A content of breast milk.
The drink supplies 30 percent to 120 percent of the U.S. recommended dietary allowances for 11 nutrients. Specifically, the fortified orange-flavored powder contains iron, zinc, iodine, vitamins A, C and E, folic acid, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and pyrodoxine.
"Whereas other researchers stress megadoses to relieve particular deficiencies, this approach can address several deficiencies using physiological doses," noted Latham. "It is simple, could be easily manufactured locally and widely distributed. In a feasibility study, we also found that the pregnant women said they liked the drink and would take it regularly."
The studies on children taking the drink currently are being replicated in the Philippines, and Latham is consulting with UNICEF and others about getting the powder manufactured locally in Tanzania and the Philippines. The experimental batch of the powder was manufactured by the Procter and Gamble Co.