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Published on 21 February 2008

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No developmental gains from supplements in Down’s children

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Giving children with Down’s syndrome antioxidants and nutrients does not help their condition improve at all, according to a study just published online in the British Medical Journal.

UK researchers studied the effect of giving such supplements to 156 babies under seven months old with Down’s syndrome over an 18-month period.

Down’s syndrome is the most common genetic cause of learning disability in the UK, affecting around one in 1,000 newborn babies.

Previous studies have investigated the possibility that giving folate, antioxidants, or both might improve the effects of Down’s syndrome, particularly in the areas of language and psychomotor development.

Although no studies have reported any significant effect, use of vitamin and mineral supplements is widespread in children with Down’s syndrome in Europe and the USA due to marketing of commercial preparations claiming substantial benefits.

In this study, the babies, from several sites in England, were split into four groups, with  one group each receiving a daily dose of antioxidants, folinic acid, a combination of antioxidants and folinic acid, and a placebo. All supplements were given in a powder that could be mixed with food or drink.

After 18 months, the children remaining in the study were assessed in terms of mental and cognitive development.

The researchers found that giving the supplements made no difference to biochemical outcomes in the children and did not improve language or psychomotor development.

The authors conclude that this study provides no evidence to support using antioxidant or folinic acid supplements in children with Down’s syndrome. Parents who choose to give supplements to their children need to weigh their hope of unproved benefits against potential adverse effects from high-dose prolonged supplementation.

BMJ Online First



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