Insufficient Vitamin D levels in pregnant women

By: Sam Brookes

Irrelevant of where you stand on the Big Bang Theory, Adam & Eve or Darwin's evolution, the concept of women getting pregnant has been around for a very long time. And it's something we're very good at. Women have successfully given birth in the most difficult conditions, and to this day still do. In famine, war zones, severe poverty and with serious illnesses, women have produced healthy children "against the odds".

But that is where the problem lies: "against the odds". And as we learn more about pregnancy and foetal development and learn more about how lifestyle and nutrition can affect a baby's development in the womb, we also discover that there are things we can do to lower the risk of our babies having health problems. This is why pregnant women don't drink alcohol and avoid pate, soft cheeses, raw egg and such like. It is only relatively recently that pregnant women have been advised to significantly limit their tuna intake due to the effects mercury can have on their unborn child.

We are constantly learning about pregnancy and making lifestyle decisions based on those learnings. Recently attentions have turned to Vitamin D and the suggestion that mothers-to-be, even including those supplementing, might not be getting enough of this important vitamin crucial for the development of the baby's bones and the health of the mother's.

A recent study in Northern Ireland tested the vitamin D levels in 99 pregnant women, plus a control group of 38, all living at latitudes of 54 to 55 degrees. In each gestation length group there were significant numbers deficient in Vitamin D and very high numbers with insufficient amounts. At 20 weeks, 44% of the group were Vitamin D deficient and a huge 96% were insufficient. And while those that supplemented did generally show higher levels, insufficiency was still evident.

This was an observational study, and therefore cannot be used to make recommendations on the exact levels of Vitamin D pregnant women should supplement with. However, it does give some suggestion that pregnant women should take a Vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter. Why? Our bodies produce Vitamin D when they get exposure to the sun, but in climates such as the UK our bodies may not produce any Vitamin D during the winter months so we are entirely reliant on getting this from our diet. Some foods are fortified with the vitamin but this study certainly suggests these levels aren't high enough for pregnant women.

Understandably there are very strict guidelines about what vitamins and minerals it is safe for pregnant women to supplement with which is why existing pregnancy supplements such as BioCare's Ante-Natal Forte include 5mcg of Vitamin D. These guidelines errs very much on the side of caution as they should but with the participation and moral difficulties of running experiments, this caution can actually mean pregnant women aren't getting the best nutritional support available.

This will always be the case, and the safety of every unborn child far outweighs the potential benefit more knowledge could bring. But it is also important to keep finding new, and safe, ways of increasing and improving our knowledge about pregnancy, and how supplementing could optimise the "odds" of a healthy child, and mother.

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Sam worked in the health and fitness industry for over 15 years and became more interested in the role diet and nutrition plays in people's health, so her studies took her in a more nutritional direction. She now works at a company who sell discount supplements, namely Totally Nourish.

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