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Friday, February 22, 2008

Children with Down Syndrome not aided by Antioxidants

According to a recent article published on bmj.com, antioxidants and nutrients do not help children with Down syndrome develop.

Down syndrome (trisomy 21) is a disorder caused by the presence of an extra 21st chromosome. It is associated with impairment of cognitive ability and physical growth. It is the most prevalent genetic reason of learning disability in the United Kingdom, occurring in about 1 in every 1,000 new born babies.

Researcher Jim Ellis and colleagues were motivated by earlier studies that have suggested possible improvements in language and psychomotor development if children are given folate (a form of vitamin B9), antioxidants, or both. Children with the condition in Europe and the United States have been consuming vitamin and mineral supplements because of the positive results claimed by marketers of such products. However, there has not been any reported significant effect on development for children with Down syndrome.

The study was performed by UK researchers who gave supplements to 156 babies - all less then 7 months in age - who had Down syndrome. The studied lasted for 18 months. The babies, selected from several sites in England, were divided into four groups. One group received antioxidants once per day, one group received folinic acid (a folate), one received both antioxidants and folinic acid, and one control group took a placebo. The supplements were given in powdered form and mixed with food or drink.

The study participants were evaluated for mental and cognitive development after 18 months. Findings include:

* No differences were noted among the groups in the biochemical outcomes
* There was no improvement in language or psychomotor development among the supplement groups

The authors conclude that there is no evidence that antioxidants or folinic acid help development in children with Down syndrome. They caution that parents who are giving these supplements to children should be aware of the possible damaging consequences of long-term, high dose administration.

An accompanying editorial by Tim Reynolds concurs with these general findings. He also notes that it is not prudent to recommend expensive vitamin supplements until some positive benefit is shown.

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