vitamin d in pregnancy, human development
© Natsicha Wetchasart

The role of vitamin D in pregnancy is an example work by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, investigating human development

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) was set up in 1962 to find out about “human development throughout the entire life process, with a focus on understanding disabilities and important events that occur during pregnancy.”

During its life, NICHD has funded and conducted research that has improved wellbeing, saved lives and reduced societal costs concerning disability and illness. There can be no doubt that the organisation aims to lead in the areas of training and research to help us understand human development, improve the lives of children and adolescents, as well as reproductive health.

Research: Vitamin D in pregnancy

NICHD has certainly assisted in the advancement of science and improving the health of individuals, families and communities and has achieved many scientific accomplishments.1 Let’s now focus on one area to illustrate just one part of NICHD’s work that concerns the role of vitamin D in pregnancy. First, let’s define what we mean by this.

To do this, we can look back to an earlier edition of Open Access Government where Dr Larisa Corda, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist shared her expert thoughts on the role of vitamin D in pregnancy and why it is beneficial for both mother and baby.

“Vitamin D is a steroid vitamin from a group of fat-soluble prohormones. There is no doubt that it’s important in pregnancy and expecting mothers need to make sure they get the recommended amounts of vitamin D during pregnancy for both their own wellbeing and the healthy development of their baby.

“Vitamin D is beneficial for both the mother’s and baby’s wellbeing. The most well-recognised benefit is improving bone health. However, it also has an increasingly recognised repertoire of nonclassical actions, such as promoting insulin action and secretion, immune modulation and lung development.

It, therefore, has the potential to influence many factors in the developing foetus.”2 One NICHD-funded study suggests that low vitamin D levels at birth or in early childhood could heighten the risk of high blood pressure in later childhood or adolescence.

The researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered that children with a low vitamin D level at birth had a 38% increased risk for elevated systolic pressure from the age of six up to 18, in comparison to children who had sufficient vitamin D level at their birth.3 Dr Andrew Bremer, a Paediatric Endocrinologist and Chief of the Pediatric Growth and Nutrition Branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), explains more about this study in his own words.

“Children with a low vitamin D level at ages 1 to 3 had a nearly 60% higher risk of elevated systolic pressure from ages 3 to 18. If the study results are confirmed, treating pregnant women and young children for vitamin D deficiency may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure later in life.”4

Another NIH study reveals that when it comes to women planning to conceive following a pregnancy loss, those with adequate vitamin D levels were more likely to become pregnant and have a live birth, versus women who have insufficient levels of the vitamin, in the view of researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Our findings suggest that vitamin D may play a protective role in pregnancy,” said Sunni L. Mumford, PhD, in the Epidemiology Branch of the NICHD.5 Vitamin D sufficiency: A public health priority Looking ahead, we know that vitamin D deficiency is associated with autoimmune and infectious diseases, cancer, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, metabolic syndrome and other health complication.

Let’s leave the last word with Dr Andrew Bremer from NICHD who urges that Vitamin D sufficiency in the population is a public health priority.

“Moreover, the association between maternal vitamin D status and health outcomes for the mother and her offspring highlight the potential ill-effects of vitamin D insufficiency through the generations,” he said.4




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