Thursday, February 16, 2012

Interesting Relationship Between Vitamin D Levels in Pregnant Women and Language Issues in Children

We all know that sitting outside and absorbing some Vitamin D on a sunny day can go a long way for a depleted body. There’s no doubt that this type of “natural vitamin D” can do wonders for people’s moods and energy levels, but now, there may be more to Vitamin D than we previously thought.

An interesting study was released from Australia, connecting low vitamin D levels in pregnant women to language impairments of the children born to the mothers.

The lead author of the study, Andrew Whitehouse, says that fetal development requires Vitamin D, however “the effects of lower maternal vitamin D levels on the developing offspring is not fully understood.” 

Lack of Vitamin D in Pregnancy

Previous studies, according to Whitehouse, have revealed links between low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy and weaker bones, poor growth, and asthma in the children. With this information in mind, Whitehouse and his colleagues, who conduct their studies at the University of Western Australia, started delving into a project that focused on low vitamin D levels in pregnant moms and the children that were the product. They were interested in finding out if vitamin D – or the lack thereof – during pregnancy led to any behavioral or language development problems in the children.

Lisa Bodnar, University of Pittsburgh professor, (who was not part of the study) says that although the study definitely suggests a correlation between the two concepts, the results do not actually prove that a mother’s lack of vitamin D during pregnancy leads to language development issues later in her child’s life. “They point to a very plausible association that warrants more attention,” Bodnar announced.

The Study

The study started 20 years ago, with over 700 women who had progressed about halfway through their pregnancy. Researchers measured the levels of vitamin D in these pregnant women, and then tested the children that were the products of the pregnancies between 5 and 10 years later. Tests included assessments on language skills and behavioral and emotional development.


Moms were categorized into four groups based on their vitamin D levels. A vocabulary test given to the children determined whether or not they had language impairments. Ultimately, the risk of having a child with behavioral or emotional issues came out the same in each group.

However, researchers found that the women in the category with the lowest amounts of vitamin D during pregnancy were more likely to have a child with a language impairment than the mothers who fell into the category with the highest levels of vitamin D. While only 8% of the children with mothers in the highest groups had language issues, 18% of the children whose moms had the lowest levels of vitamin D during pregnancy had language problems.

Whitehouse’s Conclusion

"The logical thought is that maternal Vitamin D insufficiency during pregnancy is affecting the normal course of brain development," Whitehouse told Reuters Health in an email.

"If vitamin D insufficiency during prenatal life is a cause of childhood language difficulties -- and this still needs to be determined conclusively -- then Vitamin D supplementation of pregnant women may be an important next step," he concluded.

The study was published in Pediatrics, and Whitehouse stands firm that, at this point in time, it does not show a cause-and-effect relationship between language problems and insufficient amounts of vitamin D during pregnancy, and obesity should be factored into the studies.

"We know that obesity before pregnancy is associated with poor vitamin D status in pregnancy, and we know that obese moms are more likely to have children with developmental delays and cognitive impairments," Bodner mentioned.

Whitehouse Challenges Other Researchers

At this point in time, Whitehouse says he would be interested in someone replicating his study. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn’t recommend that OBGYNs screen pregnant women for vitamin D levels, nor do they think it is necessary for these women to take supplements for vitamin D, unless a medical provider has decided that there is an issue.

Pregnant women should intake 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D each day, according to the Institute of Medicine.

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