The latest research from Southampton University has further underlined the importance of Vitamin D for children and pregnant women. The research was published in the January edition of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The study comprised 678 mothers in the later stages of pregnancy and was noted as “one of the largest and best characterised such studies globally.”
The chief medical officer for England currently recommends that all pregnant and breastfeeding women and children aged six months to five-years-old should take vitamin D supplements containing 10 micrograms (0.01mg or 400 iu) of vitamin D. The news release from the university (link to the full story below) comments:
Vitamin D during pregnancy
“Children are likely to have stronger muscles if their mothers had a higher level of vitamin D in their body during pregnancy, according to new research from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU) at the University of Southampton.” The lead researcher Dr Nicholas Harvey comments:
“These associations between maternal vitamin D and offspring muscle strength may well have consequences for later health; muscle strength peaks in young adulthood before declining in older age and low grip strength in adulthood has been associated with poor health outcomes including diabetes, falls and fractures. It is likely that the greater muscle strength observed at four years of age in children born to mothers with higher vitamin D levels will track into adulthood, and so potentially help to reduce the burden of illness associated with loss of muscle mass in old age.”
Supplementation is often not taken up in pregnancy
Despite the Department of Health recommendations for Vitamin D and pregnant women the researchers worryingly noted that “although women are recommended to take an additional 10μg/day of vitamin D in pregnancy, supplementation is often not taken up”.
And the NHS reviewing the Southampton research as part of their ‘Behind the Headlines’ service further noted the alarming statistic that “Pregnant women are known to be at risk of not getting enough vitamin D. In the current study, less than 10% of the women were taking these supplements in late pregnancy.” (link to their full review below)
Vitamin D in preconception, pregnancy and breast-feeding
Pregnancy and breast-feeding put extra nutritive demands on women and their child. And both the mother and child need extra vitamin D because it is a vitamin required for growth. Breast feeding women who are themselves deficient in Vitamin D will pass little of the vitamin in their breast milk.
Vitamin D is vital for the proper absorption of calcium and the use of phosphorus and hence important for the maintenance of strong bones and teeth, helping support the functions of the immune system and contributing toward normal muscle functions.
In December 2012 the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health expressed concerns that vitamin D deficiency in UK children was leading to a range of ailments including a worrying rise in rickets cases.
If you are planning to have a baby then maximising your nutritional health at the preconception stage is important. Appropriate nutrition is essential for the foetus from day one and often women are unaware that they are pregnant until days or weeks later.
Vitamin D the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’
Vitamin D is mostly made in our skin by exposure to sunlight; hence Vitamin D is termed ‘the sunshine vitamin’. This is particularly relevant for us in the UK as a lack of sunshine is likely to mean that someone is not getting enough Vitamin D.
Most of the foods we eat contain very little vitamin D, though more recently some makes of processed foods are fortified with added vitamin D. The following are examples of foods that naturally contain Vitamin D: salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, milk, eggs, beef, liver and Swiss cheese.
Vitamin D at all stages of life
It is important to note that good vitamin D levels are important at all stages of life. As well as the recommendations for children and pregnancy the UK government recommends that “people aged 65 years and over and people not exposed to much sun should take daily vitamin D supplements.”
Vitamin D3 is the most bioavailable form of this nutrient and far preferable to vitamin D2 to supplement with. Many people elect to take a multivitamin which includes suitable Vitamin D levels – if you are planning to do this make sure you use a multivitamin formula that is specifically suited to your age and gender.
Southampton University: Higher vitamin D levels in pregnancy could help babies become stronger
NHS: Vitamin D in pregnancy may help child muscle strength
Cytoplan Blog: Vitamin D and children
If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.