The World Health Organization says adequate amounts of vitamin A are crucial for the survival of pregnant women and their unborn children. With vitamin A deficiencies a serious global issue, particularly in developing nations, attendees of the European Palm Oil Conference (EPOC) were eager to learn if carotene-rich Malaysian palm fruit oil could be an answer. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers sought to learn if incorporating red palm fruit oil or sunflower oil into an expectant mother’s diet increased the concentration of carotenes in her plasma and breast milk.
The demand for vitamin A is highest for both the unborn child and the mother during the last trimester. Pregnant women in high-risk areas are especially prone to night blindness, a manifestation of vitamin A deficiency. For this six-month study, 90 rural, pregnant Tanzanian women during their third trimester were selected from three randomly chosen villages in a drought-prone area.
The control group was encouraged to stick to traditional meals while one group was asked to cook with red palm fruit oil and another with sunflower oil. Blood samples were drawn during the third trimester, then at one month and at three months postpartum. Researchers visited each family six times, three times before delivery and another three after, to ensure that the mothers were adhering to their diet and using the oil properly.
Women whose diets were supplemented with palm fruit oil had increased concentrations of carotenes in both their breast milk and plasma levels. Not only does this mean that the mothers are healthier and more likely to survive childbirth, but their children will also be less prone to serious health complications. Palm fruit oil, along with sunflower oil, also maintained breast-milk retinol concentrations.
Organized by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, the EPOC was a day-long conference that discussed the research behind Malaysian red palm fruit oil and was attended by leaders and key figures in the plantation, food, non-food and energy industry sectors.