Lack of vitamin D detrimental to the unborn child

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A NEW study in the British Journal of Nutrition examined data gathered from over 7,000 mothers and their children has found that vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women has an impact on the social development and motor skills of pre-school age children.

Conducted by researchers from the University of Sussex and the University of Bristol, the study found that women with less than 50 nmol per litre in blood of vitamin D were more likely to have children with low scores in tests for motor development. The tests took place when the children were aged 2 years 6 months old. These tests assess co-ordination through activities such as kicking a ball, balancing, jumping and building towers of bricks.

Insufficient levels of vitamin D in pregnancy were also found to affect a child’s social development a year later. However, no associations were found in children aged 7 to 9, who were tested for IQ scores and reading ability.

Previous evidence from animal studies had demonstrated that the neuro-cognitive development of foetuses is negatively impacted when mothers have low levels of vitamin D. Researchers hypothesise that the interactions between vitamin D and the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a crucial role in the parts of the brain which control motor and social development.

In addition to these findings vitamin D, which is derived from food and sunlight, also regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which is vital in reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Sufficient vitamin D may also be associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, infectious and autoimmune disease and diabetes.

Lead author Dr Andrea Darling from the University of Surrey, said: “The importance of vitamin D sufficiency should not be underestimated. It is well-known to be good for our musculoskeletal systems, but our research shows that if levels are low in expectant mothers, it can affect the development of their children in their early years of life.

“Vitamin D is found in oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, mackerel and fresh tuna) and in small amounts of red meat, eggs, fortified fat spreads and some breakfast cereals.  However, unless a large portion of oily fish (100g) is eaten daily it is difficult to get the recommended daily intake of 10 micrograms per day from food alone.

“Many pregnant women, especially those from minority groups with darker skin (e.g. African, African-Caribbean or South Asian), will still need to take a 10 micrograms vitamin D supplement daily, particularly in the autumn and winter when vitamin D cannot be made from the sun in the UK.”

However, it is important to remember that ‘more is not necessarily better’ and it is important not to take too much vitamin D from supplements as it can be toxic in very high doses”.

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