Vitamin D is a crucial vitamin for a variety of cell processes. Many modern people don’t get enough of this essential nutrient, a situation which can have serious health effects. New research suggests that the effects of vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy can be especially devastating and links low vitamin D levels to lifelong health problems for the fetus, including multiple sclerosis.
The Role of Vitamin D in the Human Body
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that is available in animal products such as fish, eggs and cheeses. In addition, many people get vitamin D from sun exposure. However, vitamin D deficiency is very common. Because it plays a crucial role in bone strength and immune system health, being deficient can have very negative effects. People who have low vitamin D can get brittle bones as well as a variety of cancers. In addition, there appears to be a link between vitamin D deficiency, especially during pregnancy, and autoimmune disease.
The Importance of Vitamin D in Pregnancy
Vitamin D levels have been linked to a variety of pregnancy conditions, including pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and cesarean delivery. These can all have serious effects on both mother and baby. Pre-eclampsia, which is more likely in women with vitamin D deficiency, threatens the life of both mother and child and often makes a premature delivery necessary.
In addition, a deficiency of vitamin D during pregnancy can have direct life-altering effects on the fetus. Low maternal vitamin D has been linked to risks such as dental problems, lifelong lowering of bone density, and type 1 diabetes.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Multiple Sclerosis
Vitamin D has been shown in studies to have a protective effect against multiple sclerosis. This is likely the reason that people in far northern latitudes with less sunshine are more likely to develop this disease. New research suggests that a mother’s vitamin D intake can affect their daughters for years to come. In a recent study, women born to a mother who had low vitamin D levels during pregnancy were found to be significantly more likely to develop multiple sclerosis.
While the reason for this link is still unproven, there are several hypotheses about how this could happen. Most of these relate to the role of vitamin D in the immune system. Vitamin D decreases levels of inflammatory immune molecules that have been implicated in a wide variety of autoimmune diseases. This may prevent the neurological damage associated with multiple sclerosis from occurring.
Pregnancy Nutrition: Essential for Mother and Child
Good nutrition is one of the most important factors in a pregnant woman’s health, as well as that of her baby. Because of this, doctors test pregnant women for deficiencies of important nutrients such as iron and frequently recommend prenatal supplements that provide vitamins like folic acid, which are proven essential building blocks for a healthy pregnancy.
Is it time for a change in the way vitamin D is prescribed for pregnant women? Most obstetricians expect that women get plenty of this nutrient in their diets and via multivitamins. Pregnant women are not tested for a deficiency in this important nutrient unless they are having extreme symptoms. The result is that many women may unknowingly not be getting the amount of vitamin D needed for optimal maternal and fetal health.
Vitamin D is not the first vitamin to be implicated as an important factor in whole body health. Eating foods that include a wide variety of vitamins and minerals is essential to cell function and overall well-being. Optimal nutrition, including taking supplements as needed, is the best medicine for many people and is especially important during pregnancy.