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Prenatal Vitamin C May Improve Baby's Lung Function

Smoking during pregnancy is not only harmful to your lungs, it can be harmful to baby’s.

Nearly everyone knows smoking is linked several cancer types, heart disease and other health risks, but did you know infants of mothers who smoked cigarettes during pregnancy have reduced lung function?

As a result, these babies may have increased frequency of lower respiratory tract illness and an higher risk for impaired lung function that could continue to adulthood.

For a pregnant woman, cigarette smoking could also put your baby at increased risk of asthma and respiratory infections, birth defects and other lifelong disabilities.

Health experts encourage women to always quit smoking during pregnancy. But for those women unable to quit smoking during their pregnancy, taking vitamin C daily can significantly improve the lung function of their newborns, according to a new study.

"Vitamin C is a simple, safe, and inexpensive treatment that may significantly decrease the impact of smoking during pregnancy on the respiratory health of infants," says Dr. Cindy McEvoy, a neonatologist and associate professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University’s Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.

In addition, the scientists found a specific genetic variant shown to increase the risk of smokers developing cancer. The same genetic variant is associated with a reduced ability to quit smoking and a high likelihood of relapse, and also seems to intensify the harmful effects of maternal smoking on babies' lungs.

"Getting women to quit smoking during pregnancy has to be priority one, but this study provides a way to potentially help the infants born to the women who can’t quit smoking when pregnant," said Cindy McEvoy in a written statement. "Vitamin C supplementation may block some of the in-utero effects of smoking on fetal lung development."

For the pilot study, researchers randomly assigned 159 pregnant women who were unable to quit smoking to take 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily or a placebo starting at 22 weeks gestation through delivery. A group of nonsmoking pregnant women were also observed as a reference group.

The researchers measured all the newborns’ pulmonary function at approximately 48 hours of age and found the newborns of smoking women who received vitamin C supplements had significantly improved lung function compared with the newborns of smoking women who received a placebo.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, about 45 percent of women who smoked before pregnancy quit, and about 13 percent of women reported smoking during the last three months of pregnancy. Of the women who quit, half reported relapsing within six months of giving birth.

"Our findings are important because improved lung function tests at birth are associated with less wheezing and asthma in childhood," Cindy McEvoy said.

"Vitamin C is a simple, safe, and inexpensive treatment that may decrease the impact of smoking during pregnancy on the respiratory health of children."

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and supported by the Oregon Clinical Translational Research Institute.

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