IZiNCG is pleased to announce the receipt of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to evaluate the nutritional impact of quintuply-fortified salt vs. standard iodised salt for the improvement of micronutrient status among non-pregnant women of reproductive age in Haryana, India. This project is a collaborative effort primarily between IZiNCG, the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), and the Haryana State Government.

Why women of reproductive age?

Women of reproductive age (WRA) and young children are particularly vulnerable to multiple micronutrient deficiencies, and prevalences of deficiency remain unacceptably high in India. The 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey revealed that over half of non-pregnant WRA in India are anaemic. A recent survey of 866 WRA in Haryana demonstrated the co-occurrence of multiple micronutrient deficiencies: 75% of WRA had iron deficiency, 80% had folate insufficiency, and 82% had vitamin B12 deficiency (unpublished observations).  Although plasma zinc concentrations were not assessed, the high prevalence of stunting and the low level of absorbable zinc in the national food supply are suggestive of a high prevalence of zinc deficiency.


Why zinc, iron, vitamin B12 and folate?

Zinc, iron, vitamin B12, and folate are critically important for several biological processes related to a healthy pregnancy and the optimal growth and development of the foetus and offspring. Thus, deficiencies in these micronutrients are associated with several adverse health outcomes ranging from preterm and small-for-gestational-age births, neural tube defects, stunting and childhood diarrhoea.  These health problems are widespread in India where more than 3.5 million infants are born preterm each year, nearly 10% of children under 5 have had diarrhoea in the previous 2 weeks, and 38% of children under 5 are stunted. A recent analysis estimated that the prevalence of neural tube defects in South Asia is 32 per 10,000 live births. Clearly, there is an urgent need to improve the micronutrient status of Indian WRA and their children.

Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection

Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection

Salt as a novel vehicle for multiple micronutrient fortification

Micronutrient fortification of a staple food or condiment can be an effective strategy for improving the micronutrient status of a population, as the approach is cost-effective, utilises existing delivery systems, can deliver multiple micronutrients simultaneously, and does not require behaviour change by the population.

Salt is an attractive vehicle for multiple micronutrient fortification in India, as it is universally consumed in fairly consistent amounts. India already has excellent coverage of iodized salt and has recently scaled up the distribution of salt fortified with iodine and iron (double-fortified salt).

Extensive research conducted in various settings has shown that double-fortified salt significantly improves iron status in nutritionally vulnerable groups. With new technology developed by the University of Toronto, it is now possible to fortify salt with multiple micronutrients, including zinc, vitamin B12, and folic acid, in addition to iron and iodine.

While salt fortified with encapsulated ferrous fumarate is already being produced at scale and extensively consumed by large populations in India, the planned study proposes to conduct a head-to-head comparison with ferric pyrophosphate likely in combination with citric acid and trisodium citrate (to enhance iron absorption) in an encapsulated medium that is under development and test whether sensory qualities could be improved further.

Plan for the study 

The study will be conducted in two phases. Phase 1 will include formative research involving a dietary assessment to ascertain habitual salt intake and dietary intake of micronutrients; qualitative research to understand salt procurement, storage, and utilization practices; as well as sensory and acceptability testing of the quintuply-fortified salts.

Phase 2 will be a double-blind, randomised controlled efficacy trial where 750 women of reproductive age will be randomised to 1 of 3 groups: 1) quintuply fortified salt with iron in the form of encapsulated ferrous fumarate; 2) quintuply fortified salt with iron in the form of ferric pyrophosphate; and 3) iodised salt. In brief, participating women will be provided with the assigned study salt on a monthly basis for 12 months and blood samples will be taken at baseline, 6 months, and 12 months. The primary outcome will be micronutrient status as measured by the change in biomarkers of zinc, iron, folate, vitamin B12 and iodine status. Secondary outcomes to be assessed include DNA damage, essential fatty metabolism and cognition. 

If proven efficacious, MFS has the potential not only to improve the micronutrient status of WRA, but also lead to improved perinatal outcomes, and better micronutrient status in their offspring. Together with our collaborators, IZiNCG is excited to initiate this study!


Collaborators: PGIMER, Haryana State Government, SWACH Foundation, WHO Southeast Asia, the University of Toronto, Tata Trusts/ The India Nutrition Initiative, ETH Zürich, JVS Foods, St. John’s Research Institute, University of Colorado Denver, University of California Davis, Eurofins, University of Otago, University of Nottingham, VitMin laboratory.


Read more:

Strategies for promoting zinc nutrition

Zinc supplementation during pregnancy

Zinc Fortification Task Force