Oxidative stress has been proposed as a key factor involved in the development of pre-eclampsia. Supplementing women with antioxidants during pregnancy may help to counteract oxidative stress and thereby prevent or delay the onset of pre-eclampsia.
To determine the effectiveness and safety of any antioxidant supplementation during pregnancy and the risk of developing pre-eclampsia and its related complications.
We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (May 2007), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 3), MEDLINE (1950 to October 2007) and Current Contents (1998 to August 2004).
All randomised trials comparing one or more antioxidants with either placebo or no antioxidants during pregnancy for the prevention of pre-eclampsia, and trials comparing one or more antioxidants with another, or with other interventions.
Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and trial quality and extracted data.
Ten trials, involving 6533 women, were included in this review, five trials were rated high quality. For the majority of trials, the antioxidant assessed was combined vitamin C and E therapy. There was no significant difference between antioxidant and control groups for the relative risk (RR) of pre-eclampsia (RR 0.73, 95% confidence intervals (CI) 0.51 to 1.06; nine trials, 5446 women) or any other primary outcome: severe pre-eclampsia (RR 1.25, 95% CI 0.89 to 1.76; two trials, 2495 women), preterm birth (before 37 weeks) (RR 1.10, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.22; five trials, 5198 women), small-for-gestational-age infants (RR 0.83, 95% CI 0.62 to 1.11; five trials, 5271 babies) or any baby death (RR 1.12, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.53; four trials, 5144 babies). Women allocated antioxidants were more likely to self-report abdominal pain late in pregnancy (RR 1.61, 95% CI 1.11 to 2.34; one trial, 1745 women), require antihypertensive therapy (RR 1.77, 95% CI 1.22 to 2.57; two trials, 4272 women) and require an antenatal hospital admission for hypertension (RR 1.54, 95% CI 1.00 to 2.39; one trial, 1877 women). However, for the latter two outcomes, this was not clearly reflected in an increase in any other hypertensive complications.
Evidence from this review does not support routine antioxidant supplementation during pregnancy to reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia and other serious complications in pregnancy.