Vitamin D supplementation may reduce the risk of premature births and boost the health of newborn babies, suggests a new study.
In the trial, researchers gave one group of pregnant women 4,000 IUs per day of vitamin D at about three months of pregnancy (1). They gave a second group 400 IUs per day – the amounts recommended by U.S. and UK governments. Trial participants were monitored by testing their blood and urine samples to make sure calcium and vitamin D levels were within safe ranges. No side effects were observed in both group and vitamin D levels in the women's blood increased by about 50 percent.
The researchers found pregnant women who took 4,000 IUs of vitamin D per day reduced their risk for premature birth by half compared to the controls and they were less likely to have small babies. Women on the high-dose vitamin D3 supplements compared with those on low dose-vitamin D supplementation were at a 25 percent reduced risk for infections, particularly respiratory infections such as colds and flu as well as infections of the vagina and the gums.
Women taking high doses of vitamin D also showed reduced risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia. In addition, babies getting the most vitamin D after birth were less likely to experience colds and eczema.
The researchers recommend pregnant mothers to take 4,000 IUs and nursing mothers to take 6,400 IUs of vitamin D a day. More than 1 million babies born prematurely die each year before they are a month old. Globally, about 12.6 million babies are born prematurely or before 37 weeks of development in the womb. The scientists concluded that taking high dosages of vitamin D, like 4,000 IUs per day as used in the current trial, could save the lives of at least half million babies each year.
Vitamin D is rarely found in foods except in a few fortified with vitamin D and a few in nature such as fatty fish, mushroom and egg yolk. No one should expect to get enough vitamin D from fortified foods like orange juice or milk. The best source of vitamin D is ultra-violet rays in sunshine which trigger synthesis of vitamin D. Many people try to avoid sunshine fearing that ultraviolet rays increase risk of skin cancer.