Red palm oil as a means of combating vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency leads to eye malfunction and increases infant mortality. The problem is especially prevalent in Africa. Diet diversification by using locally available products is one of the possible means for alleviating these deficiencies. Focusing on this option, a project is under way to promote unrefined red palm oil in Burkina Faso. It has included a study, by scientists from the IRD, the University of Montreal and the IRSS of Ouagadougou on the impact of the introduction of this oil, produced in the South-West of the country, into the diet of women and children of another region where it is not normally used. They provided the first demonstration of the effectiveness of free voluntary consumption of this vegetable oil, rich in the precursor of vitamin A, beta-carotene, in reducing deficiencies of this vitamin in women and children. This long-term food-supplement strategy, effective in public health management, could also contribute to local economic development by stimulating production and creating jobs, especially for women.

More than 250 million under-fives in the world are at risk from vitamin A deficiency. Such deficiency, currently the primary cause of avoidable blindness, provides the conditions for diseases to take hold, leading to high death rates among these young children. Several strategic options exist for combating these deficiencies: medicinal supplements, vitamin A enrichment of foods at industrial or community scale, or diet diversification founded on the use of locally available resources. The latter approach was adopted, in a pilot project for promoting unrefined red palm oil in Burkina Faso. IRD scientists from the research unit "nutrition, diet, societies", working jointly with Canadian and Burkina researchers (1), ran a trial from 1999 to 2001. They tested the effectiveness of red palm oil on the vitamin A status of mothers and of under-fives in the East-Central part of the country, an area where it is not normally used.

Contact: Bndicte Robert
Institut de Recherche Pour le Dveloppement

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