A dietary supplement in the form of a cheap, fortified, orange-flavored drink can reduce Third World deficiencies in micronutrients such as iron, iodine and vitamin A, a Cornell University physician and international nutritionist reports. The supplement, he says, eases the so-called "hidden hunger" that plagues more than 2 billion people worldwide and particularly affects pregnant and nursing mothers and young children.
Studies by Michael C. Latham, professor of international nutrition at Cornell, and his research team three years ago showed that the drink improves the health, nutritional status and physical growth of children in the developing world. His latest research shows that the drink can also influence the nutrition and the health of pregnant and lactating mothers and their infants in the Third World, reducing the risk for disability, ill health, and consequently, low productivity.
In a study last year and reported on this month, Latham tested the specially formulated supplement on 439 pregnant Tanzanian women, some of whom continued to be monitored after giving birth. At the Micronutrient Colloquium, which Latham chaired, in Cincinnati Oct. 10-11, he reported that the supplement significantly improved the iron and vitamin A status of the women, compared with a control group of those who did not consume the fortified drink. The risk of anemia dropped by 51 percent in pregnant women who consumed the drink.
"A simple powdered drink, which is very well liked and taken regularly when available, is convenient, simple to use and could be easily manufactured locally and widely distributed," notes Latham, who was director of Cornell's Program in International Nutrition for 25 years.
"What started as an important but relatively small study in Tanzania a few years ago has mushroomed into trials in the Philippines and Bangladesh and the successful marketing of the product in Venezuela (under the brand name Nutri Star), which is likely to be expanded in Latin America," Latham says.
The drink is made by mixing about two tablespoons of a powder fortified with 11 vitamins and minerals in a glass of water. It 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. Latham notes that about two-thirds of pregnant women in the developing world suffer from anemia, and many do not take iron pills regularly. In addition, many infants in developing countries are at risk for vitamin A deficiency. It was found that the breast milk of new mothers in the Tanzanian test group consuming the fortified supplement showed improved vitamin A levels in their breast milk compared with the control group. Similar findings have been found in a study of children in the Philippines; another study is under way in Bangladesh with adolescent girls,
The researchers believe that when the new dietary supplement is regularly consumed as a low-cost, pleasant-tasting drink, it has the potential to improve the nutrition of many millions of people worldwide, especially women and children who commonly are deficient in many nutrients.
Latham's collaborators on the study included Cornell postdoctoral associate Deborah Ash, Cornell Ph.D. 2000; Diklar Makola, M.D.; and scientists from Tanzania, including Simon Tatala, M.D., and Godwin Ndossi, Cornell Ph.D. '92.
The experimental batch of the powder was manufactured by the Procter and Gamble Co. under the leadership of Haile Mehansho, a food scientist at Proctor and Gamble. The research in Tanzania was supported by the Micronutrient Initiative of Canada and by UNICEF. The Micronutrient Colloquium was sponsored by the Procter and Gamble Nutrition Science Institute. The work has benefited from public-private partnerships and collaboration among international organizations, developing-country institutions, the private sector and academia.