Insufficient Vitamin D in Pregnancy May Hinder Child Development

Insufficient Vitamin D in expectant mothers during pregnancy has been found to have a negative effect on the social development and motor skills of preschool age children.

Examining data gathered from more than 7,000 mother-child pairs, researchers from the University of Surrey and the University of Bristol discovered that pregnant women who were deficient in Vitamin D (less than 50 nmol per liter in blood) were more likely to have children with the lowest scores — the bottom 25 percent — in preschool development tests for gross and fine motor development.

The tests, given at 2 and a half years, included assessments of coordination, such as kicking a ball, balancing, and jumping, as well as the child’s use of fine muscles, including holding a pencil and building a tower with bricks.

Vitamin D insufficiency in pregnancy was also found to affect a child’s social development at 3 and a half years, according to the study’s findings.

However, no associations were found between a mother’s vitamin D status and other outcomes at older ages, such as IQ and reading ability at seven to nine years old, the researchers reported.

Previous evidence from animal studies has shown that the neurocognitive development of fetuses is detrimentally affected when levels of Vitamin D in the mothers are low. Researchers believe that interactions between Vitamin D and dopamine in the brain of the fetus may play a crucial role in the neurological development of the areas of the brain controlling motor and social development.

“The importance of Vitamin D sufficiency should not be underestimated,” said lead author Dr. Andrea Darling from the University of Surrey. “It is well-known to be good for our musculoskeletal systems, but our research shows that if levels are low in expectant mothers, it can affect the development of their children in their early years of life.”

Vitamin D is derived from sunlight and diet. It is found in oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and fresh tuna, and in small amounts of red meat, eggs, fortified fat spreads, and some breakfast cereals.

However, unless a large portion of oily fish (100g) is eaten daily, it is difficult to get the recommended daily intake of 10 micrograms per day from food alone, researchers noted.

“Many pregnant women, especially those from minority groups with darker skin (e.g. African, African-Caribbean or South Asian), will still need to take a 10 micrograms Vitamin D supplement daily, particularly in the autumn and winter when Vitamin D cannot be made from the sun in the UK,” Darling said.

“However, it is important to remember that ‘more is not necessarily better’ and it is important not to take too much Vitamin D from supplements, as it can be toxic in very high doses.”

The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Source: University of Surrey