Lack of Vitamin D During Pregnancy Detrimental to Child Development

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13 Jul 2017 --- Vitamin D deficiency in expectant mothers can negatively affect the social development and motor skills of pre-school age children, a new study in the British Journal of Nutrition reports. Examining data gathered from over 7,000 mother-child pairs, researchers discovered that pregnant women who were deficient in vitamin D were more likely to have children with low scores (bottom 25 percent) in pre-school development tests for gross and fine motor development at age two-and-a-half years than children of vitamin D sufficient mothers. 

Tests included assessments of their coordination, such as kicking a ball, balancing and jumping and their usage of fine muscles, including holding a pencil and building a tower with bricks.

Click to EnlargeAccording to the researchers, vitamin D insufficiency in pregnancy (less than 50 nmol per liter in blood) also affects a child’s social development at age three-and-a-half years. However, no associations were found between maternal vitamin D status and other outcomes at older ages (IQ and reading ability at seven to nine years old). Researchers believe that interactions between vitamin D and dopamine in the brain of the fetus may play a crucial role in the neurological development of brain areas controlling motor and social development.

In addition to the ground-breaking findings in this study, vitamin D, which is derived from sunlight and diet, is also proven to regulate 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.

“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,” notes lead author Dr. Andrea Darling from the University of Surrey.

“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,” Darling says.    

“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 ten micrograms vitamin D supplement daily, particularly in the autumn and winter when vitamin D cannot be made from the sun in the UK,” Darling explains. “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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