Children whose mothers took prenatal multi-vitamins had lower risk for several types of cancers, according to findings from a new study, the first of its kind.
Researchers from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, searched for studies published in all languages between January 1960 and July 2005, on prenatal multi-vitamins and childhood (pediatric) cancers. Two independent medical reviewers separately evaluated whether or not to include each study according to certain criteria, such as prenatal multi-vitamins and pediatric cancers, but did not know the outcomes of the studies, the names of the study authors or institutions. The reviewers identified 61 studies worldwide, seven of which met the criteria.
The researchers first estimated the rates of cancers in women who took multi-vitamins compared to those who did not take supplements to adjust for family history of cancer and found that compared to children whose mothers had not taken supplements, children born to women who had taken multi-vitamins were 27% less likely to have pediatric brain tumors, 39% less likely to have leukemia and 47% less likely to have nervous-system cancer (neuroblastoma).
In describing the reasons for the study, doctors noted there is abundant evidence that folic acid reduces risk for several birth defects and recent evidence that folic acid may protect against certain pediatric cancers, but that scientists have not explored the role of prenatal vitamins in protecting against pediatric cancers. The researchers concluded that prenatal multi-vitamins decrease risk for pediatric brain tumors, leukemia and neuroblastoma, although doctors have yet to identify the particular nutrients responsible for these beneficial effects.