(NaturalNews) According to UNICEF, about two million children die each year from diarrhea. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 200,000 people -- mostly children -- also die annually from measles. But there's an effective way to reduce childhood sickness and death from these diseases. A new study by Cochrane researchers strongly endorses the promotion and use of vitamin A supplements, based on an extensive review of research that shows the vitamin slashes the incidence of measles and diarrhea and ultimately saves lives.
The researchers pointed out that vitamin A deficiency is commonly found among people in low and middle income countries. The result can be impaired body functions, an increased risk of blindness, infections and premature death.
WHO currently recommends vitamin A supplements for pregnant mothers and children. However, according to the new study, which was just published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, critics of vitamin A supplementation programs have argued that the use of the vitamin isn't effective in developing countries. But the new review, which investigated 43 trials involving 15,633 children between six months and five years of age, shows the vitamin is clearly a lifesaver.
In all, giving vitamin A capsules reduced the risk of death from any cause by 24% compared to placebos or usual medical treatment without vitamin A. Bottom line: this equates to saving the lives of almost a million vitamin A deficient children each year.
The review found that much of the benefit of vitamin A supplementation in developing countries appears to be related to the prevention of measles and diarrhea. "Giving vitamin A is associated with a reduction in the incidence of diarrhea and measles, as well as the number of child deaths due to these diseases," Zulfiqar Bhutta, Chairman of the Division of Women and Child Health at Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan and the senior reviewer of the project, said in a statement to the media. "However, the effects of supplementation on disease pathways are not well understood, so this could be a focus for further studies."
The researchers strongly recommend continuing vitamin A supplementation programs in children under five. However, they noted this is not a permanent solution to the problem of vitamin A deficiency. "Fortification, dietary diversification, food distribution programs and horticultural developments such as home gardening and bio-fortification may provide more permanent relief," said Bhutta. "For example, vitamin A content could be increased in staples such as rice or growers may aim to promote use of biofortified foods such as orange sweet potato."