Effects of primary or secondary prevention with vitamin A supplementation on clinically important outcomes: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials with meta-analysis and trial sequential analysis

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BMJ Open. 2024 May 30;14(5):e078053. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2023-078053.

ABSTRACT

OBJECTIVES: This systematic review with meta-analyses of randomised trials evaluated the preventive effects of vitamin A supplements versus placebo or no intervention on clinically important outcomes, in people of any age.

METHODS: We searched different electronic databases and other resources for randomised clinical trials that had compared vitamin A supplements versus placebo or no intervention (last search 16 April 2024). We used Cochrane methodology. We used the random-effects model to calculate risk ratios (RRs), with 95% CIs. We analysed individually and cluster randomised trials separately. Our primary outcomes were mortality, adverse events and quality of life. We assessed risks of bias in the trials and used Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations (GRADE) to assess the certainty of the evidence.

RESULTS: We included 120 randomised trials (1 671 672 participants); 105 trials allocated individuals and 15 allocated clusters. 92 trials included children (78 individually; 14 cluster randomised) and 28 adults (27 individually; 1 cluster randomised). 14/105 individually randomised trials (13%) and none of the cluster randomised trials were at overall low risk of bias. Vitamin A did not reduce mortality in individually randomised trials (RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.93 to 1.05; I²=32%; p=0.19; 105 trials; moderate certainty), and this effect was not affected by the risk of bias. In individually randomised trials, vitamin A had no effect on mortality in children (RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.04; I²=24%; p=0.28; 78 trials, 178 094 participants) nor in adults (RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.13; I²=24%; p=0.27; 27 trials, 61 880 participants). Vitamin A reduced mortality in the cluster randomised trials (0.84, 95% CI 0.76 to 0.93; I²=66%; p=0.0008; 15 trials, 14 in children and 1 in adults; 364 343 participants; very low certainty). No trial reported serious adverse events or quality of life. Vitamin A slightly increased bulging fontanelle of neonates and infants. We are uncertain whether vitamin A influences blindness under the conditions examined.

CONCLUSIONS: Based on moderate certainty of evidence, vitamin A had no effect on mortality in the individually randomised trials. Very low certainty evidence obtained from cluster randomised trials suggested a beneficial effect of vitamin A on mortality. If preventive vitamin A programmes are to be continued, supporting evidence should come from randomised trials allocating individuals and assessing patient-meaningful outcomes.

PROSPERO REGISTRATION NUMBER: CRD42018104347.

PMID:38816049 | DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2023-078053