By Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS
Healthnotes Newswire (February 9, 2006)—Mothers deficient in vitamin D during late pregnancy can determine their child’s bone health years later, according to research in the Lancet (2006;367:36–43). The new study shows that children of mothers with deficient vitamin D had lower bone mineral content at age nine compared with children whose mothers got enough vitamin D in pregnancy. Low bone mass in children may put them at higher risk later in life for osteoporosis and hip fractures.
The study included 198 children born between 1991 and 1992 whose mothers (all white women) had been examined during pregnancy to determine body build, diet and exercise patterns, and vitamin D status. The children were evaluated at age nine using physical examination, questionnaires, and dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, a test that measures whole-body and lumbar-spine bone mineral content, bone area, and bone mineral density. Forty-nine percent of the mothers were found to have inadequate vitamin D in their blood during late pregnancy, which was associated with reduced whole-body and lumbar-spine bone mineral content in the nine-year-olds.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in fish and vitamin D–fortified foods, such as milk. Sunshine is an important source of vitamin D, which the skin can synthesize after it has been exposed to ultraviolet light. People who live in very cloudy or smoggy regions or at northern latitudes, who primarily stay indoors, or who use sunblock to excess can become deficient in vitamin D. The main function of vitamin D in the body is to ensure adequate levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Vitamin D deficiency weakens bones; this deficiency manifests as rickets in children and softening of the bones (osteomalacia) or thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) in adults.
Vitamin D requirements double during pregnancy and lactation (from 200 IU per day to 400 IU per day). Pregnant women should be aware of their vitamin D intake, particularly if the last trimester of pregnancy occurs during winter months, when sunlight exposure is low. Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy and lactation could enhance the strength of bones in the children, and prevent osteoporosis and fractures later in life.
Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.
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