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Antioxidant supplementation for sickle cell disease.

BACKGROUND: Sickle cell disease (SCD) refers to a group of genetic disorders characterized by the presence of an abnormal haemoglobin molecule called haemoglobin S (HbS). When subjected to oxidative stress from low oxygen concentrations, HbS molecules form rigid polymers, giving the red cell the typical sickle shape. Antioxidants have been shown to reduce oxidative stress and improve outcomes in other diseases associated with oxidative stress. Therefore, it is important to review and synthesize the available evidence on the effect of antioxidants on the clinical outcomes of people with SCD.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness and safety of antioxidant supplementation for improving health outcomes in people with SCD.

SEARCH METHODS: We used standard, extensive Cochrane search methods. The latest search date was 15 August 2023.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials comparing antioxidant supplementation to placebo, other antioxidants, or different doses of antioxidants, in people with SCD.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two authors independently extracted data, assessed the risk of bias and certainty of the evidence, and reported according to Cochrane methodological procedures.

MAIN RESULTS: The review included 1609 participants in 26 studies, with 17 comparisons. We rated 13 studies as having a high risk of bias overall, and 13 studies as having an unclear risk of bias overall due to study limitations. We used GRADE to rate the certainty of evidence. Only eight studies reported on our important outcomes at six months. Vitamin C (1400 mg) plus vitamin E (800 mg) versus placebo Based on evidence from one study in 83 participants, vitamin C (1400 mg) plus vitamin E (800 mg) may not be better than placebo at reducing the frequency of crisis (risk ratio (RR) 1.18, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.64 to 2.18), the severity of pain (RR 1.33, 95% CI 0.40 to 4.37), or adverse effects (AE), of which the most common were headache, nausea, fatigue, diarrhoea, and epigastric pain (RR 0.56, 95% CI 0.31 to 1.00). Vitamin C plus vitamin E may increase the risk of SCD-related complications (acute chest syndrome: RR 2.66, 95% CI 0.77 to 9.13; 1 study, 83 participants), and increase haemoglobin level (median (interquartile range) 90 (81 to 96) g/L versus 93.5 (84 to 105) g/L) (1 study, 83 participants) compared to placebo. However, the evidence for all the above effects is very uncertain. The study did not report on quality of life (QoL) of participants and their caregivers, nor on frequency of hospitalization. Zinc versus placebo Zinc may not be better than placebo at reducing the frequency of crisis at six months (rate ratio 0.62, 95% CI 0.17 to 2.29; 1 study, 36 participants; low-certainty evidence). We are uncertain whether zinc is better than placebo at improving sickle cell-related complications (complete healing of leg ulcers at six months: RR 2.00, 95% CI 0.60 to 6.72; 1 study, 34 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Zinc may be better than placebo at increasing haemoglobin level (g/dL) (MD 1.26, 95% CI 0.44 to 1.26; 1 study, 36 participants; low-certainty evidence). The study did not report on severity of pain, QoL, AE, and frequency of hospitalization. N-acetylcysteine versus placebo N-acetylcysteine (NAC) 1200 mg may not be better than placebo at reducing the frequency of crisis in SCD, reported as pain days (rate ratio 0.99 days, 95% CI 0.53 to 1.84; 1 study, 96 participants; low-certainty evidence). Low-certainty evidence from one study (96 participants) suggests NAC (1200 mg) may not be better than placebo at reducing the severity of pain (MD 0.17, 95% CI -0.53 to 0.87). Compared to placebo, NAC (1200 mg) may not be better at improving physical QoL (MD -1.80, 95% CI -5.01 to 1.41) and mental QoL (MD 2.00, 95% CI -1.45 to 5.45; very low-certainty evidence), reducing the risk of adverse effects (gastrointestinal complaints, pruritus, or rash) (RR 0.92, 95% CI 0.75 to 1.14; low-certainty evidence), reducing the frequency of hospitalizations (rate ratio 0.98, 95% CI 0.41 to 2.38; low-certainty evidence), and sickle cell-related complications (RR 5.00, 95% CI 0.25 to 101.48; very low-certainty evidence), or increasing haemoglobin level (MD -0.18 g/dL, 95% CI -0.40 to 0.04; low-certainty evidence). L-arginine versus placebo L-arginine may not be better than placebo at reducing the frequency of crisis (monthly pain) (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.26 to 1.95; 1 study, 50 participants; low-certainty evidence). However, L-arginine may be better than placebo at reducing the severity of pain (MD -1.41, 95% CI -1.65 to -1.18; 2 studies, 125 participants; low-certainty evidence). One participant allocated to L-arginine developed hives during infusion of L-arginine, another experienced acute clinical deterioration, and a participant in the placebo group had clinically relevant increases in liver function enzymes. The evidence is very uncertain whether L-arginine is better at reducing the mean number of days in hospital compared to placebo (MD -0.85 days, 95% CI -1.87 to 0.17; 2 studies, 125 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Also, L-arginine may not be better than placebo at increasing haemoglobin level (MD 0.4 g/dL, 95% CI -0.50 to 1.3; 2 studies, 106 participants; low-certainty evidence). No study in this comparison reported on QoL and sickle cell-related complications. Omega-3 versus placebo Very low-certainty evidence shows no evidence of a difference in the risk of adverse effects of omega-3 compared to placebo (RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.48; 1 study, 67 participants). Very low-certainty evidence suggests that omega-3 may not be better than placebo at increasing haemoglobin level (MD 0.36 g/L, 95% CI -0.21 to 0.93; 1 study, 67 participants). The study did not report on frequency of crisis, severity of pain, QoL, frequency of hospitalization, and sickle cell-related complications.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There was inconsistent evidence on all outcomes to draw conclusions on the beneficial and harmful effects of antioxidants. However, L-arginine may be better than placebo at reducing the severity of pain at six months, and zinc may be better than placebo at increasing haemoglobin level. We are uncertain whether other antioxidants are beneficial for SCD. Larger studies conducted on each comparison would reduce the current uncertainties.

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