Despite high levels of sunshine, low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy are common in Mediterranean women, according to a study presented at the European Congress of Endocrinology in Dublin. This finding should help lower the prevalence of early childhood diseases associated with vitamin D deficiency such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, disorders in bone formation, higher risk of emergency cesarean delivery and premature birth.
It’s commonly believed that sun exposure is key to maintaining normal levels of vitamin D and therefore assumed that Mediterranean women are at lower risk of hypovitaminosis than those from Northern Europe. However, in countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey, vitamin D deficiency occurs in up to 90 percent of pregnant populations.
This study shows that racial, social and cultural habits counteract the benefits of sun exposure on vitamin D levels. Dr. Karras Spiros and colleagues at the Aristotle University of Thesaloniki, Greece, carried out a systematic review of vitamin D levels in 2,649 pregnant women and 1,802 newborn babies. They studied the effect of a number of different factors including, age, body mass index, race, socioeconomic status, skin types, period of gestation, sun exposure, calcium and vitamin D intake, smoking status, time of year of birth and pregnancy complications. They found that the best predictors of maternal vitamin D deficiency were dark skin, race and dress habits.
“Pregnant women with vitamin D deficiencies may be at greater risk of various problems and complications, both for themselves and their babies,” Karras said. It’s imperative for pregnant women and the medical community at large, to recognize the importance of vitamin D in overall health.
Ideally, the next stage of the research is to implement systematic screening for maternal hypovitaminosis and supplementation in a large-scale European project. “We are excited about the potential of integrating testing and supplementation into medical practice, making it a standard of care across Europe,” said Karras. “Keeping future mothers healthy and giving babies the best start at life may help EU health programs for Southern European countries to achieve their mission to reduce infant mortality and the number of low-birth-weight babies.”