Vitamin D, otherwise known as the “sunshine vitamin” is essential for bone development. During pregnancy, the mother’s vitamin D intake helps ensure that the fetus’s bone structure develops properly. But could there be another purpose behind this important nutrient? A new medical study suggests so.
“For decades, vitamin D was known as a nutrient that was important only for bone health,” lead author Lisa Bodnar, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology, told Science Daily. “Over the past 10 to 15 years, scientists have learned that vitamin D has diverse functions in the body beyond maintaining the skeleton, including actions that may be important for maintaining a healthy pregnancy.”
After conducting one of the largest studies to date, Dr. Bodnar and colleagues say there is strong evidence that vitamin D helps to prevent severe preeclampsia during pregnancy. This condition, which can result in severe complications ranging from premature birth to death, affects at least 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies.
In their study, researchers analyzed the blood samples of 700 pregnant women who ended up with preeclampsia along with samples of 3,000 women who did not develop the condition. These well-preserved stores of blood were carefully tested for vitamin D levels. Researchers then accounted for control factors like race, pre-pregnancy body mass index, smoking habits, diet, level of physical activity, sunlight exposure and number of previous pregnancies.
All in all, it was found that vitamin D sufficiency resulted in a 40 percent risk reduction of severe preeclampsia. However, this same risk protection did not extend to mild preeclampsia, which is thought to have a different “root cause,” senior author Mark A. Klebanoff, M.D., M.P.H., Center for Perinatal Research at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, told Science Daily.
Regardless, this information comes as a welcome opportunity for preeclampsia prevention – especially where worst-case conditions are concerned.
“Severe preeclampsia poses much higher health risks to the mother and child, so linking it with a factor that we can easily treat, like vitamin D deficiency, holds great potential,” Klebanoff said.
Still, the key word here is “potential.” Before taking any supplements during pregnancy, women should consult their obstetricians.
“If our results hold true in a modern sample of pregnant women, then further exploring the role of vitamin D in reducing the risk of preeclampsia would be warranted,” Dr. Bodnar said. “Until then, women shouldn’t automatically take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy as a result of these findings.”
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