High prevalence of thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency in early childhood among a nationally representative sample of Cambodian women of childbearing age and their children

Kyly C. Whitfield, Geoffry Smith, Chhoun Chamnan, Crystal D. Karakochuk, Prak Sophonneary, Khov Kuong, Marjoleine Amma Dijkhuizen, Rathavuth Hong, Jacques Berger, Tim J. Green, Frank Tammo Wieringa

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Background: Thiamine deficiency is thought to be an issue in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia due to frequent clinical reports of infantile beriberi. However the extent of this public health issue is currently unknown due to a lack of population-representative data. Therefore we assessed the thiamine status (measured as erythrocyte thiamine diphosphate concentrations; eThDP) among a representative sample of Cambodian women of childbearing age (15–49 y) and their young children (6–69 mo). Methodology/Principle findings: Samples for this cross-sectional analysis were collected as part of a national micronutrient survey linked to the Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey (CDHS) 2014. One-sixth of households taking part in the CDHS were randomly selected and re-visited for additional blood sampling for eThDP analysis (719 women and 761 children). Thiamine status was assessed using different cut-offs from literature. Women were mean (SD) 30 (6) y, and children (46% girls) were 41 (17) mo. Women had lower mean (95% CI) eThDP of 150 nmol/L (146–153) compared to children, 174 nmol/L (171–179; P < 0.001). Using the most conservative cut-off of eThDP < 120 nmol/L, 27% of mothers and 15% of children were thiamine deficient, however prevalence rates of deficiency were as high as 78% for mothers and 58% for children using a cut-off of < 180 nmol/L. Thiamine deficiency was especially prevalent among infants aged 6–12 mo: 38% were deficient using the most conservative cut-off (< 120 nmol/L). Conclusions/Significance: There is a lack of consensus on thiamine status cut-offs; more research is required to set clinically meaningful cut-offs. Despite this, there is strong evidence of suboptimal thiamine status among Cambodian mothers and their children, with infants <12 mo at the highest risk. Based on eThDP from this nationally-representative sample, immediate action is required to address thiamine deficiency in Cambodia, and likely throughout Southeast Asia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0005814
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 5 Sep 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases

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