In the last few years, vitamin D deficiency has reached epidemic proportions. Because every cell’s health is impacted by vitamin D, having insufficient levels has been linked to an increased risk all kinds of health conditions, including osteoporosis, certain 17 types of cancers, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and even diabetes along with of course osteoporosis. Now, research shows that a vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women and their babies is quite prevalent. This insufficiency is impacting these children’s health.
A healthy diet and the proper supplementation before and during pregnancy can positively affect a pregnant woman’s health and the health of her baby. For decades, studies have shown the benefits of folic acid for preventing birth defects; omega-3 fats, especially DHA, for brain health; and calcium for bone health. Many pregnant women take prenatal vitamins for this reason.
You may recall a study conducted by Lisa Bodnar, Ph.D., at the University of Pittsburg in 2007. Eighty percent of African American women and roughly half of Caucasian women were found to be vitamin D deficient, even though 90 percent were taking prenatal vitamins! (The typical prenatal vitamin containsed only 400 IUs of vitamin D at this time). This study also showed that low maternal levels of vitamin D increase a baby’s risk of skeletal problems, particularly rickets.
In January 2011, a large study done on mothers and children in Mysore, India gave us more proof that vitamin D deficiency is truly a worldwide epidemic. About 67 percent of the 568 women whose children were studied were vitamin D deficient.
In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers assessed children’s lean muscle mass, cardiovascular markers, and sensitivity to insulin. Children were studied twice; at 5 years old and 9.5 years old.
At ages 5 and 9.5, those children born to mothers with low vitamin D levels had smaller arm muscles (less lean muscle) than children whose mothers had healthy levels. Even more concerning, at 9.5 years of age those children whose mothers were deficient in vitamin D had higher insulin resistance. This is an indicator that one may will develop diabetes.
There were not differences in cardiovascular markers, including blood pressure and cholesterol levels, between the two groups.
These results were the same for boys and girls.
Maintaining adequate—or better yet, optimal—levels of vitamin D is one of the best preventative measures one can take. Now there is evidence that protecting our own health, by having optimal levels of vitamin D, provides an additional benefit to future generations.
I recommend if you plan to get pregnant, make sure to check your vitamin D levels before you conceive. During your pregnancy, monitor these levels every trimester so you’re sure to give your baby the best start he or she can have.